Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Starting next month, our state will be operating under a new, two-year budget that guides spending for everything from health care to public schools. As the chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, I was honored to lead the budget team again this past legislative session. The $60 billion, two-year budget is long and complicated, but it is an important document that puts into action our state’s values and provides a vision for the future. In this newsletter, I will share a few of the budget highlights that I believe will help our state quickly recover from the pandemic and change lives for the better here in Kitsap and across the state.
The 2021-23 operating budget uses a combination of ongoing state revenue and federal funds from the American Rescue Plan to provide small business support, strengthen the state’s safety net, take action on climate change, build upon investments in local public health, provide investments for affordable housing, and prioritize the needs of low-income and communities of color that have suffered the most impacts due to the pandemic.
As our state grows (estimated now at 7.6 million in population) in the years to come, our budget must respond to the needs in our communities. Here are a few of the key investments we are making to rebuild the state’s economy and support households, students, workers, and businesses impacted by the pandemic.
- Health care: Vital public health system investments that will help in the battle against COVID-19 and ensure the state is better prepared to address future health crises. In total, $1.1 billion in federal funds will go to state, local and Tribal governments for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and vaccine distribution.
- Childcare and early learning: Largest-ever state investment (Fair Start for Kids Act) to make childcare more accessible and affordable for families across the state.
- Wildfire prevention and suppression: Historic investments to make Washington more wildfire resistant and a significant expansion of state firefighting resources to help stop forest fires in time to minimize devastation.
- Small businesses tax and fee holidays: Support for businesses and workers through assistance grants and relief from pandemic-related unemployment tax premium increases; waiving childcare business fees; waiving liquor license fees.
- Housing: More than $1 billion in federal and state funds to help households impacted by the pandemic keep up with rent and utility payments and avoid foreclosure.
- Tax “rebates” for workers and families: Establishment of an annual Working Families Tax Credit to help approximately 420,000 households struggling to make ends meet and help provide more fairness in our sales-tax dependent tax system.
- Long-term care and support for the developmentally disabled: Eliminated waiting list for people to access key services; support for nursing homes and assistance with rate increases.
- Police and corrections: Thirteen bills to improve police accountability, training and interactions with the public. Among other things, the bills ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, mandate independent investigations of deadly force incidents, and require intervention by other officers who witness unjust use of force.
- State Parks and Outdoor Education: Recognized the significant role state parks play in our lives – especially over the last year – by making the largest investment in more than a decade to keep these special places fully staffed. Also expanded grants to community organizations for outdoor recreation and learning experiences to help get kids outside and ready for school in the fall.
- K-12 Schools: Provided the one-time support needed to safely reopen schools and avoid massive staffing layoffs that would have destabilized the system. Included funding for school nurses and counselors in low-income schools.
The budget makes hundreds of other targeted investments to make our communities stronger now and to provide long-term financial stability and resilience for generations to come. Thanks to our skilled and diversified workforce, our state is fortunate to have one of the strongest economies in the nation. Even through the pandemic, our state’s historically high bond rating remains intact. As we work to put the pandemic behind us, I remain extremely hopeful about the future of our state.
Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter. I’ll follow up throughout the summer with further updates on progress made in the 2021 legislative session. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Christine.Rolfes@leg.wa.gov.