Building Capital – Travels with Chipper

John Steinbeck is one of my favorite writers, and while Grapes of Wrath may be his most influential book, he also shared his humor and humanity with his American travelogue, Travels with Charley. Charley was his wife’s French poodle with whom Steinbeck crossed the country.

Since I’ve been working on the capital budget, and hearing about all the interesting projects organizations and people propose to build around the state with our state tax dollars, I’ve had a growing curiosity about what exactly we’re building.  So I thought I might hit the road and take a look myself.  Since I have a rescue dog named Chipper (who is definitely not a purebred) we’ve decided to include Chipper in our excursions.  We’re making him a kind of “mascot” for Building Capital, the official title of our productions.  And we’re making a series of videos to explain the story behind the projects.

We can call this video series “Building Capital” but personally I call it “Travels with Chipper.”  My little fella enjoys traveling in the car, and is always interested in the scenery.  We’ve got a big list of interesting visits ahead.  From the Pateros water system tower that was heavily damaged in last year’s wildfires, to the renovation of acute mental health cottage at Echo Glen Children’s Center, from the Mother Joseph Academy roof replacement in Vancouver to the Soos Creek Hatchery renovation.  Dozens of big and small projects are underway, and they will contribute to our economy and create family wage jobs while improving our environment, our communities and our critical education and health services.

One of the biggest parts of our capital budget is for education—our public schools, colleges and universities.  I’ve often wondered if citizens would be so cynical about their taxes and government if they were aware of the tens of millions of dollars our state legislature appropriates for our school districts, skills centers, community colleges and 4-year institutions.  Our school construction assistance program distributed more than $300 million to school districts, and another $200 million will be awarded for lower class size grants to qualified districts during this budget.  Perhaps we should post a sign on each building that reveals the actual tax dollars it takes to build and maintain buildings used by more than a million students every year.

And the budget decisions we make determine how many soccer and baseball fields for youth are built.  Just in the last biennial budget, we appropriated $7.35 million for local youth recreation.  Then there are the Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA facilities and of course our wonderful state parks, where we are spending nearly $53 million to replace electrical supply systems, sewage systems, water supply and even preserving historic World War 1 facilities at Fort Flagler park.  We’re even investing more than $2 million to expand the fantastic Goldendale Observatory, which I suggest you should put on your bucket list to see for yourself.

Another major part of the capital budget is critical environmental clean-up, restoration and preservation.  In the last budget we appropriated about $45 million on Puget Sound restoration, preservation and salmon recovery programs.  One of my favorite investments is the $35.5 million we are spending on a new approach to flood threats.  A pilot project in Orting has shown the value of creating floodplains instead of channeling flood waters through ever-higher levee walls on rivers that tend to flood.  Of course when a catastrophic flood or fire occurs, the capital budget is always tapped, whether it’s in the Chehalis basin or the Okanogan.  Climate change is a huge challenge too, whether it’s to maintain sufficient water supply in the Yakima basin or preserve the shoreline on the Pacific coast.

But the local projects shouldn’t be overlooked.  No matter how small, each one is important to the town, a non-profit organization or community groups and local leaders who are trying to preserve, restore and build for the future.  All aboard for the Ellensburg Train Station!

I do hope you will check out our new video series “Building Capital,” aka “Travels with Chipper”, as we post them on my web page and share them on YouTube.