WA Senators propose two-year, $69.2 billion operating budget -- and saving for a rainy day
Washington State Senate budget writers released their proposal Thursday for a two-year, $69.2 billion operating budget.
While $5.1 billion is added in new spending for the 2023-25 biennium, no new taxes or fees are added to provide the new funding. Even with new spending, Senators have proposed leaving $3.8 billion for reserves as a safeguard for an economic slowdown as well as protection for Washington’s currently high credit rating.
Major budget investments are targeted to public schools, housing and homelessness, as well as behavioral health services and investments to fight climate change.
“Budgets are a reflection of our values and I feel very proud of the budget that we are presenting today as a reflection of Democratic values that will address the greatest needs that we’re seeing in our communities right now,” said Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, sits on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and said in a press statement following the budget release Thursday that even though the budget isn’t truly bipartisan, it is the most inclusive proposal Republicans have seen in years.
“The majority has no obligation to consider input from the minority, yet our Democratic counterparts allowed us to stay at the table and offer our suggestions,” Wilson said. “A Republican budget would look different in several areas, but there are still a lot of items to like in here because they reflect the three main priorities for Senate Republicans this year — public safety, affordability and K-12 education — and also accommodate the top priorities of our committee leaders.”
The operating budget will have a public hearing at 2 p.m. Friday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Senators also introduced a proposed capital construction budget bill of $7.9 billion and held a public hearing for the proposal on Monday. That budget bill passed from an executive session in Senate Ways and Means on Wednesday, with all committee members voting to approve the measure.
House budget writers are expected to release their budgets next week, and Senate and House lawmakers will work together to negotiate on a final spending plan by the end of the session on April 23.
Lawmakers are bound by the state’s constitution to pass the state’s budgets before the last day of the legislative session.
Senate budget writers are proposing $2.9 billion in new spending for K-12 public schools that would address learning loss, workforce needs in schools, and rising costs due to inflation. If passed, the funding would be the largest investment in public schools since the McCleary ruling in 2018, they said.
Lawmakers this year have focused heavily on special education funding, and that is apparent in the new proposed budget with an investment of $375 million going to support special education students.
Additionally, lawmakers have proposed $59 million to expand food access for some students in Washington. About $525 million will go to teachers’ salaries and health care costs.
Senators also are proposing $215 million to help boost the childcare workforce shortage.
One of the other key focus areas this session has been on behavioral health. The proposed Senate operating budget invests $424 million for services such as behavioral health facilities, new programs that support those with developmental disabilities and mental illness, and funding for youth treatment services.
In 2022, the state Attorney General announced that Washington state would receive $518 million from an opioid settlement with three major opioid companies, and Senate lawmakers have included more than $50 million of that settlement in the operating budget to fund substance abuse treatment services.
Senate lawmakers also set aside $15 million for reproductive services and clinics taking patients from out-of-state.
To comply with the state’s 2015 Trueblood decision, which determined that DSHS must provide competency evaluations within 14 days and must transfer people out of jail and into competency restoration services within 7 days, legislators are adding $52 million to fund competency evaluations and mental health support services. About $45 million is earmarked to increase staffing at psychiatric hospitals.
Housing and homelessness
Combined, funding for affordable housing from both Senate budget proposals will total nearly $1 billion if both budgets are adopted.
About $298 million will fund housing as well as immediate shelter needs in the state. That funding will also go towards the Right of Way Safety Initiative to move homeless individuals off of public land along freeways and into transitional and permanent housing.
Emergency housing and rental assistance would be provided with $85 million, and $32 million would go towards grants for local governments to support affordable housing. Senators have also set aside $8 million for youth and children experiencing homelessness.
This is the first year that funding from the 2021 Climate Commitment Act can be used in the state budget, and $679 million from those proceeds will be invested in multiple areas. Lawmakers have included $218 million in funding for carbon sequestration, riparian restoration, reducing flooding and other measures.
Senators also are proposing investing $74 million to help Tribal communities and overburdened communities with meeting climate goals in the state, as well as $126 million to replace heavy duty trucks and to capture methane.
Another major key area for lawmakers this session is public safety, and budget writers have included investments in a wide array of areas.
Senators are proposing $7 million to fund regional training centers for law enforcement officials, and $4.5 million in enhanced training for correctional officers.
An organized retail theft task force is provided with $2.3 million, while $4.8 million will fund the Washington State Patrol’s Cannabis Enforcement Team. Senators are setting aside $2.5 million so the state can hold negligent gun dealers accountable.
Additionally, $5.5 million would be allocated for work release programs.