Special session has finally come to an end! Over the past weeks, Reps. Hans Dunshee, Pat Sullivan and Timm Ormsby and I worked hard to secure a supplemental operating budget that reflected the values of Washingtonians and met the needs of our state. It was a challenging process, but we stood our ground and the Senate met us on many critical issues. I am happy to report that the budget we passed makes many key investments that move the state forward on education and addressing the teacher shortage, mental health care and youth homelessness.
Here are some of the things this budget does to uphold our obligation to make Washington a better state:
- Investment in Early Learning/Family Child Care workers: This investment in early learning will increase wages for some of the lowest paid workers and provide quality improvement in our child care system. While the Senate initially refused to honor agreements reached between the governor's office and our early learning workers, in the end we were able to prevail.
- Teacher recruitment and retention: The agreement provides funding for the BEST program – Beginning Educator Support Team – a proven method for retaining new teachers. It also funds professional development for paraeducators and some grant programs to address the state’s teacher shortage crisis.
- State hospital staffing: The House was successful in getting a robust package of improvements for the state’s mental health hospitals and community mental health system, including funds for additional state hospital staff, mobile crisis teams, and crisis triage beds.
- Homeless Youth prevention: There are more than 35,500 homeless youth in Washington – it's an emergency House Democrats knew we needed to address, and thankfully the Senate Republicans eventually came to our position on most of our plans. We're investing in more emergency residential services and beds throughout the state; providing more resources to local governments to help more homeless people transition into permanent housing; and investing in programs that prevent youth homelessness.
- Higher Ed Financial Aid: We fought to provide additional funding for Washington Achievers Scholars so more disadvantaged youth have an opportunity for a college education.
- State Parks funding: State parks will actually see funding in order to carry out their mission, so Washington families can use state parks for recreation.
Equally important to the things we won are the things we successfully prevented from the Senate Republicans' proposals, which included:
- Eliminating mental health reserves: The Senate would have cut $43.7 million from regional support networks. These funds are needed for key community services.
- Moving Blind/Disabled to fee for service: This reduction would have had catastrophic consequences on care for a very vulnerable population. The House fought to ensure that this population can continue to access health care.
- Merging pensions for teachers, firefights and cops: The Senate budget relied on merging our state's teacher retirement plan with the state's law enforcement and firefighters plan, without even working with stakeholders.
- No Healthier WA savings restoration: Without providing funding like the Senate did, the Health Care Authority would have had to make radical cuts like dropping health care for thousands of kids and dropping dental services for adults.
- Broadcaster tax reduction: The Senate’s last public budget relied on $82 million over four years from legislation to give national cable companies a tax break on advertising income. For the last few years, groups like Comcast have not been paying B&O taxes on advertising income, instead fighting with our Department of Revenue. I don't believe in rewarding bad behavior, and national corporations shouldn't get a tax cut for refusing to pay their taxes.
State constuction budget.
We also passed a supplemental capital budget that funds construction to build classrooms and housing. This budget lays the foundations for building a better Washington and will put people to work across the state. It includes $34.5 million for K-3 class size reduction and $34.7 million for the School Construction Assistance Program.
Additionally, the capital budget also funds
- $5.5 million for a pilot project to build classrooms with cross-laminated timber (CLT), an innovative new construction method that could create local jobs and make it profitable to thin forests, thus reducing the danger of wildfires.
- $1.8 million in emergency disaster response.
- Extensive funding to help the state’s mental health system, including $8.5 million for the Crisis Triage Center Grant Program; $7.5 million for Mental Health Supportive Housing; $7.9 million for critical repairs and upgrades at state mental health facilities and hospitals; and $5 million Community Behavioral Health Grant Program ($33m in underlying budget).
- $70 million in student housing and other projects at state community and technical colleges.
- $8 million in new funding for the Housing Trust Fund.
- $2.5 million toward the Homeless Youth Grant Program and $2.25 million for Supportive Housing and Emergency Shelters.
The capital budget is how local needs get met and its investments will mean the world to our communities and neighborhoods.
Now that we’re officially in interim, I’m excited to get home to be with my family and friends. I also can’t wait to catch up with many people from the 40th, including business owners, teachers and community leaders.