Olympia, Wash. – Gov. Jay Inslee lauded the completion of this year’s session which concluded with bipartisan passage of an historic transportation investment package and a new state operating budget that reinvests in Washington after years of deep cuts in education, health and human services, state parks and other important services.
“This is a darn good budget for Washington that is sustainable, responsible and fair,” Inslee said. “Our economy is rebounding and so is our ability to invest in the people and programs that have made Washington the most innovative, forward-looking state in the nation.”
The biennial operating budget, which passed with the largest bipartisan majority in at least 15 years, addresses nearly all the priorities put forward by Inslee in December. It includes:
- $1.3 billion for K-12 basic education, including funding to provide all-day kindergarten for children statewide and reduce K-3 classroom sizes to 17 students
- A historic $95.3 million investment to expand the state’s early learning program to 1,600 more children
- Funding for a teacher mentoring program
- Tuition cuts for college students and an expansion of financial aid
- Critical mental health investments to reduce wait times in state hospitals and prevent psychiatric boarding
- More child protective and child welfare service workers
- Prevention and response measures for oil spills along rail lines
- More staff and operations funding for State Parks
- Cost-of-living increases for state employees and teachers for the first time since 2008
The budget includes about $220 million in new revenue and about $178 million in fund transfers. Since Inslee released his original proposal last December, the state’s economy has continued to improve, and the projected budget shortfall shrank considerably. Inslee said he’s glad legislators were able to bridge the difference largely by closing tax breaks.
The Legislature also approved a $3.9 billion capital budget that will provide 21,000 jobs and includes more than $800 million for school construction and K-3 class size reduction, $55.3 million for the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program, and $40 million for the governor’s Clean Energy Fund.
Inslee also lauded legislators for approving a much-needed transportation investment package, a key priority he’s been promoting since his first day in office. The 16-year, $16 billion package addresses critical maintenance and safety needs around the state and funds numerous projects to relieve congestion and improve freight mobility.
“This is an incredibly important investment package that creates hundreds of thousands of construction jobs, greatly strengthens our economic prospects into the future, and makes historic investments in transit and other multi-modal improvements that provide reliable options for commuters across the state,” Inslee said.
The package includes more than $1 billion for multi-modal improvements, including transit, bicycle, pedestrian, vanpool and safe routes to school investments, as well as incentives for alternative fuels, making it the greenest transportation investment package in state history. The package also authorizes Sound Transit to pursue a $15 billion light rail expansion that will create a truly regional light rail network from Everett to Tacoma.
The transportation package includes a “poison pill” that Republican lawmakers designed to discourage the governor from enforcing current clean air laws by implementing a clean fuel standard.
The provision says that if the governor implements the clean fuel standard, about $2 billion of the combined $31 billion package would be diverted from ferries, transit, pedestrian improvements and other alternatives to an undesignated account that would require further appropriation.
“I signed this transportation package even though it included the poison pill because it’s important that we move forward on critical investments that provide safety, jobs and traffic relief,” Inslee said. “This creates a tough decision, and I’ll make it after I review all our options.”
Inslee said it was extremely frustrating that legislators weren’t able to complete their work until the final days of the biennium – and then some. Despite three special sessions, important policy items were left undone, including school levy reforms, stronger provisions related to oil trains, toxics reduction and action on key climate bills needed to ensure Washington meets carbon reduction limits established by the Legislature in 2008. Inslee also said he plans to continue conversations about income inequality and the need for a fairer minimum wage and paid sick leave.
“There are many issues that legislators still need to tackle, and over the coming months, there will be many conversations about our next steps,” Inslee said. “Issues such as minimum wage and climate change are heavy lifts for a divided legislature, yet they are vital to ensuring our long-term economic health and quality of life. We came close on several of these, and I want to see us finish the job.”