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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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