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Published on Monday, April 4, 2016

Final budget lays out cuts to toxic cleanups and stormwater projects and assistance

One of the biggest challenges facing the legislature this year on the capital budget side was a significant drop in available revenues in the Model Toxics Control Account (MTCA). Funds from this account are used to clean up toxic sites and to prevent future toxic contamination through various programs including critical stormwater projects and activities. As a result, there are significant cuts to both stormwater and clean-up projects. Cities are disappointed that this had to be done as trouble has been brewing in this account for several years. As the legislature has faced general fund budget challenges they have relied on MTCA to help solve their problem by shifting funding for various programs from the general fund to MTCA. The legislature has a lot of work to do to bring stability back to this critical account.

The primary source of revenue for MTCA is a small tax on the value of hazardous substances including oil. As the price of oil has dropped precipitously so have the revenues. This drop left budget writers with about $100 million dollars less in the account than they thought they had when they wrote the biennial budget last year. Agency action had addressed a portion of that. The challenge for the legislature was to deal with a $78 million shortfall for this budget. They managed to hit this target through a series of targeted reductions in capital and operating expenditures, delaying projects until future biennia and a new $10 million loan from the ASARCO cleanup settlement account.

In the adopted capital budget stormwater projects were cut by $30.1 million and the overall cut to toxic cleanups was $22.8 million. Projects affected by these cuts remain authorized and the budget expresses intent to fund them when resources return. In the operating budget the second year of stormwater capacity grants, shoreline management update grants and public participation grants were all cut on top of a MTCA-related hiring freeze at the Department of Ecology.

Ecology will be releasing lists of what happens to specific projects as a result of these cuts after the budget is signed and enacted in the coming days.