House budget writers proposed a $69.5 billion operating budget for the two-year, 2023-25 biennium on Monday.
“We still hear from our constituents and communities across the state about significant unmet needs in K-12 education, in behavioral health, in housing affordability and homelessness, in workforce development and beyond,” House Majority Leader Joe Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle, said at a news conference Monday.
“Our proposed budget addresses these needs, and it does so even though we saw a reduction in our revenue forecast last week. Our strategies for addressing our greatest challenges are mutually reinforcing and funding one area at the expense of others won’t get the job done.”
The proposed operating budget does not rely on any new tax increases, although there is still discussion in the Legislature about a real estate excise tax proposal to increase affordable housing services, Fitzgibbon said. He noted that proposal will remain in consideration until the end of the session.
The proposed House budget leaves open the possibility of Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed $4 billion housing referendum to fund affordable housing in Washington over the next several years.
“Our members want to see a greater level of effort on affordable housing and providing access to affordable housing across the state,” Fitzgibbon said.
Fitzgibbon noted that the bond proposal will remain under consideration, and said that it will likely be discussed until the end of the session.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statement Monday in response to the House proposal.
“I’m very encouraged to see the House propose larger investments to avert more homelessness in our state,” he said. “It is most heartening that the House put in the budget the funds necessary to implement our housing bond proposal that would build thousands of necessary housing units.
“The stage is now set for discussions between the House and the Senate to develop a budget that will go big so people can go home,” his statement said.
Additionally, the House budget writers maintained a 9.8% reserve in its proposed budget, or about $3.2 billion in reserves, according to Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
“Those strong reserves position us well to maintain our excellent credit rating without sacrificing critical government programs and services,” Ormsby said.
Senate budget writers released their budget proposals last week, with a proposed $69.2 billion for the operating budget, and a $7.9 billion proposal for the capital budget.
On Friday, the Senate passed its capital budget unanimously.
The House and Senate will negotiate and come to an agreement for a final budget that must be passed by the end of the legislative session on April 23.
Here are some of the proposed expenditures from the House operating budget proposal.
House budget leaders are proposing $1.9 billion in funding for students, teachers and schools.
Special education funding in particular was one of their top priorities this year, said Rep. Steve Berquist, D-Renton, vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, and as such budget writers have proposed $179 million for special education student support.
House budget leaders also are factoring in a $570 million salary adjustment and healthcare cost increase for educators in K-12 learning.
While a proposal to provide all K-12 students with free school lunch did not pass the Legislature this year, lawmakers are proposing $85 million for free meals for certain students in the proposed operating budget.
Berquist also said that with the proposed $82 million this year for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program that the program is on its way to being fully funded in 2027.
Housing and human services
House lawmakers are proposing $175 million for emergency housing as well as rental assistance in their version of the operating budget. Additionally, House budget writers are proposing $150 million towards a covenant homeownership program, which would help some first-time homebuyers with down payments and closing costs.
In total, $704 million is proposed for affordable housing costs for the next biennium.
Additionally, House lawmakers are looking at $60 million for encampment response, and an additional $27 million for the Housing and Essential Needs referral program.
Food assistance programs would get a $128 million boost in support, and $44 million would be added to increase funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other cash assistance programs in the state.
Climate and natural resources
The Climate Commitment Act will see some large investments under the proposed budget from House lawmakers, with $316 million going towards the program. The CCA was first passed in 2021 and its purpose is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 95% by 2050.
Additionally, $45 million is proposed for forest health and wildfire protection, as well as $25 million for biodiversity protection.