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Washington State House, Senate agree on 2018 supplemental operating budget

As one of its final acts prior to adjourning Sine Die later on this evening, the Washington State Legislature today sent Governor Jay Inslee a supplemental operating budget agreement that appropriates funding to a host of essential public services necessary to the health and well-being of our communities.

The final budget negotiated by representatives of both chambers left the Senate on a party-line vote of twenty-five to twenty-four, while receiving four Republican votes in the House. ESSB 6032 now awaits action by the Governor.

The supplemental budget voted on today contains no improvements to the state’s tax code, but would partially offset last year’s property tax levy swipe scheme, which Republicans insisted on as part of the McCleary deal.

Although it does not raise any new revenue, it barely attracted any Republican support. As mentioned, only four Republicans voted aye on the budget, out of seventy-two total Republican legislators serving in Olympia.

“The 2018 budget addresses two of the biggest needs in our state—ample funding for education and vital support for mental and behavioral health,” said Democratic State Senator Christine Rolfes, the Senate’s chief budget writer.

“It includes nearly $1 billion to fully fund teacher salaries to comply with the final piece of the Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling. This budget sends a clear message that this state values educators and the important work they do in preparing our students to be successful. The budget also makes a $306 million investment in mental and behavioral health, improving services at our state hospitals and in our communities. Finally, this budget provides property tax [cuts] for working families across the state, while leaving healthy reserves that will put our state on solid financial footing entering the 2019 budget cycle.”

“A decade ago, lawmakers made a promise to one million school kids to fully fund their public schools,” said State Representative Timm Ormsby, the House’s chief budget writer. “It wasn’t easy. Lawmakers had to sail through rough waters along the way, but today we are sending a budget to the governor that fulfills that promise. The state is living up to its constitutional and moral obligation to amply fund schools and provide opportunities for all students to learn.”

“And Democrats were able to do this while also making critical investments to improve our state’s mental health system, reduce the State Need Grant backlog, and provide much-needed property tax [cuts] to millions of families across the state. This is a balanced, sustainable budget that puts people first and meets the needs of the people of Washington State.”

“I applaud the Legislature for coming to an agreement on the budget, positioning them to successfully end the legislative session on time,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal in a statement following the vote.

“This budget makes a massive investment in educator compensation to address the State Supreme Court’s ruling in McCleary v. State of Washington. I am grateful the Legislature was able to comply with the Court’s timeline for funding basic education. Now it is time to move from basic to excellence!”

Senator Kevin Ranker (D-40th District: San Juan Islands, Bellingham, Anacortes, Mount Vernon) says the process and outcome this year compare very favorably to what Washingtonians saw last year… although that’s not a very high bar.

“Last year’s final budget barely avoided a government shutdown and enacted the largest property tax increase in state history,” said Ranker.

“The new Democratic majority is making sure we reduce the Republican property tax while making an historic investment in our children’s education, free college, and protections for the environment, mental health and much more. Today, we have a budget that reflects our core Democratic values and provides badly needed tax [cuts] to middle-class families across the state.”

“We fully fund our children’s education in a thoughtful way that finally meets the McCleary lawsuit. We invest $130 million in special education and dramatically increase opportunities for foster and homeless children.”

“We provide free college for low income families, making sure all children — no matter their parent’s income — can go to college.”

“Additionally, our capital budget invests in our communities in north Puget Sound, providing additional dollars to strengthen families, educate our children and connect us to nature, ultimately making our communities stronger.

“We worked tirelessly through the sixty-day session for our communities. This was by far one of the busiest, but most productive, sessions in Olympia.”

“I am inspired and energized by the incredible accomplishments we’ve made in this short session. Washington State is showing the nation what progressive leadership can accomplish, and we’re not done yet.”

Showing the nation what true progressive leadership can accomplish, however, would have involved bringing to the floor for a vote — and enacting — at least some reforms to make our state’s tax code more just and equitable. Sadly, that did not happen.

Washington’s antiquated, upside down tax code is among its greatest weaknesses. Every year, our elected representatives (or at least our Democratic elected representatives) acknowledge this fact, and say that something needs to be done. But then, nothing gets done. This organization will celebrate its fifteenth anniversary this August, and in all that time, the Legislature has taken no meaningful steps to remedy this harmful state of affairs.

It must be noted that the Legislature considered — but did not adopt — a capital gains tax on the wealthy to fund the state’s K-12 public schools.

Furthermore, the Legislature considered — but did not adopt — a pollution tax to fund Washington’s transition to a clean energy future.

Lastly, the Legislature considered — but did not adopt — legislation to create a tax expenditure budget, so there is an accounting of how much money the state gives away in the form of tax breaks and carve-outs.

This has how pretty much every session has gone since NPI’s inception in 2003. Worthy bills get introduced and discussed… and sometimes even moved through committee… but ultimately do not get acted on.

2019 must be different. Passage of the Trump tax scam has already caused grave damage to public finance at the federal level. And the worst is yet to come.

The dithering and procrastination we’ve seen in our statehouse has to end. Lawmakers in Washington need to begin taking serious, meaningful steps to put Washington on a path to long-term fiscal health and ensure that our essential public services are supported by revenue sources that are just and equitable.

It’s great that we have a supplemental operating budget negotiated within the confines of a regular legislative session. But adoption of a budget that simply appropriates money we already have is basic governing.

Washington needs much more than that, and its people have every reason to want and to expect more from their elected representatives.