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Senate budgets target education, behavioral health, property taxes

The Senate Democratic Caucus has released its 2017-19 supplemental budgets.

The proposed $900 million supplemental operating budget has three main priorities according to Senator Christine Rolfes, chair of the Ways & Means Committee.

The budget represents a commitment to the shared values and interests of the people of Washington State. We’re funding our public schools and addressing mental illness. We’re living within our means and we’re returning taxes to Washingtonians at a time when economic growth is extraordinarily good.

The proposed budget would provide a $403 million property tax cut for 2019, or a 31-cent drop per $1000 of assessed value. The state’s property tax rate will go from $2.70 to $2.39 only for 2019.

While this property tax relief is temporary, Rolfes said it provides relief while the legislature works on “more permanent ways to fix our state’s unfair tax code.”

In order to pass the cut, the legislature needs a super-majority vote. Senator Erickson introduced a property tax relief bill with a proposed 81-cent drop, which died in committee. While Senator Rolfes called the 31-cent drop “sustainable,” it’s likely Senate Republicans will try to negotiate a higher property tax cut.

Rolfes said that the budget would fulfill the McCleary Decision by adding $972 million to implement the new teacher salary allocation model through 2021.

Special Education would also receive $25.3 million in funding to comply with the McCleary Decision by increasing the special education multiplier. However, the special education safety net is reduced by $10 million each year.

K-12 education receives $937.6 million in funding in the proposed budget for 2017-2019.

Behavioral health services receive $208.7 million in funding, notably

  • $46.4 million in court penalties accrued under Trueblood et al v. DHSH
  • $10.1 million for opioid disorder response
  • $9.6 million for 45 forensic beds at Western State Hospital

Other notable funding includes:

  • $22 million for forest fire related costs
  • $6 million for three Veterans Homes across the state
  • $5 million for the Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment
  • $4.5 million as part of the Hirst fix
  • $2 million for the development of a medical marijuana authorization database

Under the proposed budget, the 2019-21 biennium would end with a projected $1.9 billion in total reserves.

Senate Democrats also released the proposed $300 million supplemental capital budget. Senator David Frockt, the Capital Budget Writer, said:

As you know, in January we did pass finally the $4.3 billion capital budget. This is truly a supplemental capital budget, a total of $334 million in additional funds, a combination of cash and state bonds. I think what’s most notable in what we tried to do is align it with the two main priorities of our operating budget, both K-12 and mental health.

The supplemental capital budget adds $66.2 million in funding for public schools and $62 million in additional investments for behavioral health.

Governor Inslee issued the following statement following the release of the supplemental budgets:

I applaud Senate Democrats for prioritizing education and funding the final payment on our McCleary obligations this year. With recent forecasts indicating Washington’s strong economy will generate an estimated $1 billion of additional revenue over the next three years, we can certainly afford to fund our commitments to students.

The Senate budget also makes crucial investments in urgent public needs such as the opioid crisis and mental health, while providing people across the state some relief from property taxes.

I look forward to seeing the House’s supplemental budget proposal tomorrow and moving forward to find common ground in the coming weeks.

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