EDITORIAL: Stick with nonpartisan process to distribute WWRP funding: State Senate tinkering puts political connections first
In a state as large and diverse as Washington, there are many more demands for park, trail, natural areas, riparian and urban wildlife habitat than can be funded in any two-year budget cycle. The Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program does a good job allocating these scarce assets in ways that have long been recognized as fair.
Earlier this month, the state Senate proposed $68.8 million in WWRP funding — in the neighborhood of the $75 million passed by the House and the $70 million proposed by the governor. Under usual circumstances, the funding level would be reconciled and the projects given highest rankings would be funded. Projects are selected based on an independently administered evaluation process that was set up by former Govs. Dan Evans and Mike Lowry — a bipartisan duo.
Experimenting with relatively newfound power after some years in the political wilderness, the Senate’s Republican majority tried something new when they should have left a well-regarded process alone. There are many Washington state spending decisions that can benefit the push and pull of an objective partisan debate, but the WWRP works just fine. The coalition that oversees it includes 280 non-profit and corporate members represents conservation, business, recreation, hunting, fishing, farming and community interests. This kind of buy-in deserves enthusiastic support, not interference.
Pacific County has benefited from WWRP funding over the years, a notable example being the trail extension between State Route 100 and North Head Lighthouse. In the new scenario being trotted out by the state Senate, favoritism could have channeled those funds away to a more populous or politically favored community. Under this year’s Senate plan, several projects will find themselves in just such a situation, losing funds to the earmark preferences of individual senators.
Of all the ways the Senate has to usefully weigh-in on state spending priorities — and of budgeting the Senate’s own precious time — monkeying around with the WWRP was not the way to go.
Wise leadership will opt for the House version, and defer to the longstanding non-partisan process in future years.