I am pleased that we passed an operating budget that prioritizes the health of our communities and the education of our children.
On June 29, the Legislature avoided a government shutdown by passing an operating budget that serves as a compromise between the House and Senate. While I am frustrated by the need for three special sessions, I am pleased that we passed an operating budget that prioritizes the health of our communities and the education of our children. Achievements that will allow us to make core investments in services important to our constituents include:
- K-12 Education - $1.3 billion is invested in K-12. This is the largest increase in school funding in state history and allows us to fulfill the McCleary decision. Investments will go toward K-3 class size reduction, all-day kindergarten, maintenance, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC).
- Teacher COLAs – In addition to restoring the I-732 cost-of-living adjustments, we added another $157 million in funding teacher COLAs to help educators make up lost ground on their earnings during the Great Recession. Additional investments are also made to ease health care premium costs for all K-12 employees.
- Higher Education – All college students will receive a 5 percent tuition reduction for the 2015-16 school year. For 2016-17, students at UW and WSU will receive an additional 10 percent reduction and students at the regional schools will receive an additional 15 percent reduction. The state will also invest an additional $41 million in scholarships for high-demand majors in science, technology, engineering, math and health care (Opportunity Scholarship). Additional investments are made in computer science and engineering programs at UW and WSU.
- Early Learning – This budget makes over $159 million in early learning investments to improve outcomes for kids, expand Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) enrollments, and stabilize Working Connections Child Care eligibility.
- Mental Health –We've restored about $100 million in funding to programs that have been unfunded or underfunded for years, allowing regional support networks to serve more of those in need.
- Safety Net/TANF –$31 million will be restored to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program – a 9 percent increase from the last budget. We also restored $11 million to the State Food Assistance program and Emergency Food Assistance. This isn’t nearly enough to meet the demand, but it’s a strong, positive step in the right direction.
- State Employee Contracts –Public employees are the backbone that make our state run smoothly and efficiently. The Legislature fully funded the negotiated state employee collective bargaining agreements.
- Foster Kids – The House fought for – and prevailed – to increase funding for critical foster care services and to put the state in compliance with court rulings.
- State Parks –State parks took a big hit during the recession, but we fought for $20 million in new funding to ensure our state parks remain healthy and vibrant.
If you would like to know more about what is included in the budget, please visit http://leap.leg.wa.gov/leap/budget/detail/2015/ho1517p.asp.
I am pleased to report that we also passed a Capital Budget that will make many key investments in projects and programs in the 40th. These include:
- Blanchard Working Forest
- Carver Academic Renovation
- Riverside Drive Building
- San Juan Islands Museum of Art
- City of Mt. Vernon Downtown Flood Protection Project & Waterfront Trail
- Orcas Island Library Expansion
- Remedial Action Grants
- City of Bellingham
- Port of Anacortes
- Port of Bellingham
- Washington Heritage Grant
- Artifact/Exhibit Environmental Conservation Project
- Washington Wildlife Recreation Grants
- Skagit County Farmland
- John Storvik Spray Park and New Restroom/Anacortes
- Larrabee Clayton Beach Railway Overpass
- Squalicum Creek Trail
I encourage you to check out http://leap.leg.wa.gov/leap/budget/detail/2015/hc1517p.asp for more on the Capital Budget.