Dear friends and neighbors,
It’s budget season at the Legislature! Both the House and Senate have proposed versions of the three budgets that we pass every year – operating, transportation, and capital. What do all three budgets entail, and what’s in them for our district?
Our operating budget pays for all our ongoing investments – schools, health care, salaries for state employees and more. This year’s Senate budget proposal makes the biggest new investment in school funding in years, with $2.9 billion in new money for our schools and an emphasis on special education services. It’s got about a half a billion dollars in new investments for behavioral and mental health care and for drug treatment to address the addiction crisis. It also funds some great programs for our agricultural sector, like the Sustainable Farms & Fields, which provides clean energy tools to our farmers like dairy digesters and better management of livestock and manure and funding to plan around flood prevention and our county’s ongoing recovery. It has money for local training for law enforcement at a new facility we’re building in Bellingham so they don’t have to go down to Burien anymore, for a local alternative response program that sends behavioral health specialists to non-violent behavioral health calls, for homelessness prevention including safe parking in our district, for carbon sequestration and for other environmental programs, and a whole lot more – and does it all without raising taxes. You can read about it all in the budget summary here.
We get a lot of paper to sort through to keep track of what’s in the budgets – Lexi Guebara from Blaine Middle School was here in the Legislature this week as a Senate page and we thought it’d be a fun spoof to show off the shuffle on my desk.
The transportation budget makes investments in our roads, highways, ferries, transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and supporting programs like the Department of Licensing and the Washington State Patrol. As vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, I got to help write this budget and look forward to sharing what I’ve learned to better our community.
Our priorities in transportation were:
- Keep our promises – we plan projects out years before we can build them, then commit to building those projects in our transportation packages. Examples are things like the Thornton Overpass which was planned years ago and is estimated to be complete later this year. If we told the public we’d build a project, we need to deliver.
- Traffic safety – too many people are dying on our roads and highways, and we need safer infrastructure to make sure everyone gets home okay.
- Clean, green, and healthy – our transportation system is a major source of carbon pollution, and we need to support electric vehicles, e-bikes, and all kinds of bicycle, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure, so people can get to where they need to go and protect our climate at the same time.
These means that we’re funding things like a new interchange at I-5 and Slater Road for safety, funding for the Whatcom Transportation Authority to support transit, incentives for purchases of e-bikes, elevating Kneuman Road in Sumas and Slater Road near Ferndale so we have evacuation routes in times of flood, buying electric ferries for our neighbors in island communities, and a whole lot more.
Making these climate investments is possible because of the Climate Commitment Act that we passed in 2021. The CCA requires big polluters to buy permits at auction, then that money is dedicated for spending on climate and environmental projects and programs. It’s great to see this program going into effect so that we can have both a healthy planet AND make the investments it takes for a strong economy. We don’t have to choose – we can have both!
One of the perks of serving in the Legislature is meeting the interesting people and groups who come here. The Senate passed a resolution recognizing the sport of cricket, and I got to take five minutes out of my day to get some quick instruction on the game out on the lawn. Fun!
Our capital budget funds our state’s physical infrastructure – mostly buildings, but many other things too. Our Senate proposal would make a big investment in directly constructing affordable housing statewide, to go along with the work we’re doing to promote private development. I’m very confident that our budget this year will set a record for the biggest investment in affordable housing in state history.
It also builds a lot of local projects here in Whatcom County, like half a million dollars for the Van Zant town hall, $10 million for the Nooksack River’s “Floodplains By Design” program which will reduce flooding risk and restore habitat, a whole bunch of salmon recovery projects, and a lot more – if you want to see the list of projects proposed for the 42nd District, go to this link and choose “42nd Legislative District” in the District dropdown menu.
All of these projects help create jobs directly and build the infrastructure for our communities, our businesses, and our environment to thrive.
One factor that’s really exciting – all three of these budgets have big bipartisan support in the Senate. Being able to reach bipartisan agreement on these budgets is great news and helps make sure that they work for folks in communities all across the state.
So what’s next? With the House and Senate both releasing proposals for all three of these budgets, the next step is to get together and negotiate our differences. I’ll be working on the transportation budget, discussing with my colleagues in the House how we can bring our ideas together and come to a final agreement that works for the people of Washington. We’ve got until the end of session, April 23, to get this work done, so I’ve got a few busy weeks ahead of me.
If you have thoughts on these budgets and what the state should be funding, let me know! You can reach me any time at Sharon.Shewmake@leg.wa.gov, and your feedback is important to helping me represent you well. Let me know any questions or thoughts, and I look forward to keeping in touch!
Sen. Sharon Shewmake