Washington State House Democrats


Rep. Sam Hunt’s Electronic Newsletter – April 12, 2013

In this edition:

House Operating Budget proposal

House Capital Budget proposal

Tax reform and tax fairness 

Mental health services

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Today we passed the House version of the operating budget. Next week will see passage of our versions of the capital budget and transportation budgets. Then lots of negotiating will begin! With a little over two weeks remaining in the session, much of the year’s committee work is done. But there is still much work to do before we can head back home.

At the top of that list is agreeing on a two-year operating budget. Governor Inslee and the Senate both released their proposals for the state’s operating budget recently.  This week, the House rolled out our plan (highlights below). Now it is up to the budget writers from the House and Senate to negotiate a final budget that both chambers can agree on. Also still on the agenda are negotiations on the transportation and capital construction budget. 

House budget proposal

The House budget proposal is a responsible budget that funds our state’s priorities:

•        Fully-funds K-12 education.

•        Expands healthcare to over 280,000 more people, saving $265 million.

•        Protects care for vulnerable seniors, the disabled, and at-risk kids.

•        Promotes jobs and economic opportunity.

It sets the high-water mark for education spending, adding $1.3 billion over predicted spending on public schools. If you compared total education spending to the current budget, the House proposal spends $1.9 billion more than the status quo.

In contrast, Gov. Jay Inslee proposed putting $1.2 billion more toward education, while Senate Republican budget writers put forth a budget that adds only $760 million to meet our McCleary obligations.

Our plan also:

•        Invests in early learning

•        Reduces class sizes in K-3

•        Puts more money into high-demand college degrees

•        Expands health care and protects the safety net

•        Offers affordable health coverage to 280,000 more people by expanding Medicaid

•        Helps small business with costs by implementing the health care exchange, giving business owners and employees affordable and portable options for health coverage

You can get many more details about the proposal here and here.

Capital Budget benefits 22nd District

The Capital Budget (state construction budget) proposed by Capital Budget Chair Hans Dunshee and Ranking Minority Member Judy Warnick treats our district very well.  It addresses several priorities that Senator Fraser, Representative Reykdal, and I have been working on.  If the Senate agrees, additional jobs will be created in our area and benefit our communities.  Here is a partial list that shows the major investments the state would make.

·        Washington Center for the Performing Arts building restoration – $816,000

·        Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County Garfield Elementary Clubhouse – $800,000

·        SafePlace Community Service Center – $214,000

·        Behavioral Health Resources campus expansion renovation – $1,000,000

·        Thurston County Food Bank distribution center acquisition and facility retrofit – $1,000,000

·        Capitol Olympic Vista Park property development – $386,000

·        New state office building at 1063 Capitol Way to replace the aged GA Building – $82 million

·        Military readiness center to replace current armory – $47.7 million

·        Woodard Bay Recreation Area improvements – $2.43 million

·        South Puget Sound Community College Lacey Campus renovations – $5 million

·        Housing for people with developmental disabilities (Foundation for the Challenged Homes) –  a share of $2.25 million for homes in Thurston and other counties

You can learn more about the House Capital Budget proposal here.

Tax reform and tax fairness
Every two years, our budget writers carefully decide where to spend taxpayer dollars, but only recently have they begun looking at the other side of the equation – tax exemptions.  Now, though, a citizens’ commission, the state’s expert audit and review committee, and the House Finance Committee are all reviewing the 640 tax exemptions, breaks, and loopholes in our state’s tax code. 

It’s estimated these exemptions cost about $24 billion each biennium.  Many of them have been on the books, unexamined, since the 1930s. Lawmakers want to know, do they still make sense? Do they actually create the jobs they were intended to?

And, most importantly, are they more critical to our state than making sure our kids get the education we want them to have?

Based on the answers to some of those questions, the House has proposed a series of reforms that will shift tax dollars from unneeded exemptions to funding education – our paramount duty.

The $1.3 billion in reforms and revenue in our budget proposal match the $1.3 billion new investment in education we propose in our budget.

Funding mental health services that are critical to public safety

Our budget proposal also funds recently-approved legislation that helps to ensure the mentally ill get the care they need and make Washington a safer place:

  • House Bill 1114: fills the gap between the criminal justice system and mental health care providers. It ensures that violent mental health offenders get the treatment they need, instead of ending up on the streets.
  • House Bill 1336: requires school counselors and nurses to receive training on suicide prevention – giving these professionals the tools to identify early warning signs of troubled youth and prevent tragedies.
  • House Bill 1777: accelerates the implementation of critical involuntary commitment of people with pressing mental health issues. The new approach will take input from family members and friends into consideration when making a decision to involuntarily commit. We pay for this change two years ahead of schedule.
  • House Bill 1522: builds a bridge between hospitals and the community for the mentally ill. It creates a step down from state hospitals – which will provide an important service to folks beginning to transition back into day-to-day life. This isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the cost-effective approach.
  • House Bill 1627: gives county jails the tools they need to meet the growing demand for competency evaluations. Our county jails aren’t mental health care providers and, without adequate care, the mentally ill deteriorate rapidly in jail.

We’ve seen the tragedies that can occur when the mentally ill don’t get treatment they need. I believe mental health care is a critical investment – it’s just one of many priorities I will be fighting for in coming weeks.