OLYMPIA – The Washington State Senate today approved a $52.2 billion state operating budget to fund vital state services, including targeted support for the state’s behavioral health system, K-12 special education, higher education, and the environment.
Because the Senate amended ESHB 1109 before passing it, budget writers from the Senate and House must now begin a conference process to negotiate the differences in the versions that passed each chamber and pass a final operating budget before the end of the legislative session on April 28.
More than half of the state budget pays for K-12 education, honoring commitments made in 2017 to increase basic education funding. A new investment of $283 million is dedicated to improving behavioral health services over the next two years.
“This is a smart budget that puts people first and fulfills commitments to quality education and a more effective behavioral health system,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee and its chief budget writer. “We deepen our commitment to quality early learning, give more kids a chance at college, invest in our state’s vital workforce, and address threats to our health and environment. This budget continues our commitment to putting people first.”
The budget represents a $4.5 billion increase in K-12 education spending above the last biennial budget, including a $937 million increase for special education.
Other budget highlights include the funding of Gov. Inslee’s climate initiatives and orca whale protection, investments to address housing needs and homelessness, expansion of college scholarship programs, improving the foster care system, police de-escalation training, expanded access to early learning, and funding the sexual assault kit backlog at the Washington State Patrol.
Senate Democrats are proposing roughly $518 million in new revenue to pay for many of the new investments. The proposal calls for changes to make the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) more fair and the closure or reduction of three preferential tax rates: non-resident sales tax, prescription drug resellers, and travel agents. The budget also includes a tax increase on property, auto and casualty insurance, from 2 percent to 2.52 percent, to establish a dedicated account to fund the growing cost of wildfire prevention and suppression.
“Our economy is leading the nation is several categories, but our upside-down tax structure places a disproportionate burden on middle-class individuals. Where more revenue is needed to address our state’s growing needs, the budget strategy is careful not to increase the costs to working families,” Rolfes said.
“Both the Senate and House proposals focus on creating safe, healthy communities where people have access to quality education, affordable housing, and economic opportunity,” Rolfes said. “I look forward to working with the House to finish our work and pass a final 2019-21 budget before the session ends on April 28.”