Washington State House Democrats


State budget update from Rep. Kagi

Summer is almost over, and I have had time to reflect on our historic legislative session –the longest in our state’s history. It was a grueling six months, but in retrospect, the successes were well-worth the extra time and effort. We were finally able to come to agreement with the Senate on a two-year operating budget that invests in education, including early learning and higher education, mental health, and the social safety net.

 As the Supreme Court recently ruled, we still have a lot of work to do to meet our constitutional mandate to fully fund our public schools. We must fund basic education and not force school districts to rely on local levies to provide basic education. The House remains committed to finding a solution but cannot do it alone. At this point, it appears that the Senate is focusing on challenging the Supreme Court’s authority, rather than on working with the House and the Governor to find a solution. There are no plans to call the legislature back into session unless and until there is an agreed upon plan that we can vote on. It is frustrating and disappointing that we are not moving aggressively to find solutions to this vexing problem which will be the main issue in the coming session next January.

Here is a brief summary of the operating, transportation and capital budgets we passed at the end of June and early July.

Operating Budget

Opportunity for all is a core value for House Democrats. We’re fighting to give everyone a chance, starting with early learning all the way through the opportunity to earn a college degree.

In Governor Inslee’s State of the State address this year, he spoke about the importance of early learning saying, “Our most fundamental commitment needs to be to the very youngest Washingtonians.” Early learning is the best tool we have to close the opportunity gap and invest in our future. I am proud to have led a bipartisan effort to improve early learning, making sure that we are setting these youngest Washingtonians on a path to success.

 We passed the Early Start Act this session, and put over $159 million in early learning. This will improve outcomes for kids, expand Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) enrollments, and stabilize eligibility for our subsidized child care program. In addition to the historic investment in high-quality early learning, we are supporting young children by increasing home visiting, literacy programs, and early intervention and support for children with special needs.

K-12 Education – We made $1.3 billion in new investments in K-12 that will go toward K-3 class size reduction, all-day kindergarten, maintenance, supplies, and operating costs. Even though this is the largest increase in school funding in state history, the state Supreme Court found last week that we hadn’t done enough to meet our obligation under the McCleary decision.

The budget we passed provides the first cost-of-living increase teachers have seen since before the Great Recession.

On top of the requirements of the McCleary decision, we still need to address Initiative 1351, the voter approved mandate to reduce class sizes across all grades. I voted to delay implementation of I-1351 because, even though I believe in smaller class sizes and know that smaller class sizes will help our students, I couldn’t ignore our overall budget picture. We are still an estimated $3 billion short of meeting our McCleary obligation. We were unable to adopt any new revenue sources to pay for education because the Senate would not consider new taxes. Without new revenue, we cannot satisfy the Supreme Court’s mandate much less $2 billion to fund lower class sizes. I am looking forward to revisiting the conversation about I-1351 four years from now, once we have made sure we are meeting the minimum legal obligations to fully fund K-12.

In Washington, education is our paramount duty. But hungry, sick and homeless kids can’t take advantage of the education system we are building. That is why House Democrats fought so hard to beginning restoring our safety net that we cut deeply during the recession. This year the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program will see a 9% increase, helping families who are struggling to make ends meet. We also restored $11 million to the State Food Assistance program and Emergency Food Assistance, so that mothers and fathers can put food on the table.

One of the areas I am most proud of is our work towards better stability and outcomes for our most vulnerable children. Funding is increased for foster care, making caseloads more manageable. We also continue implementation of the Family Assessment Response, a program to strengthen families through additional support instead of removing children from the home. Foster care is extended to age 21 for youth aging out of care. And, as directed by my bill, a new Office of Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Programs is created to further our goals of making sure that every young person has a safe place to call home.

We’ve restored about $100 million in funding for mental health programs that have been unfunded or underfunded for years. We’ve also developed new plans for getting people outpatient treatment for their psychiatric care, which saves us money in the long run and lessens the likelihood of someone suffering from a mental health crisis.

 The budget we passed this year begins to reflect the things that we value – education, opportunity, and an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few. But we are far from done. Washington state has the most regressive tax system in the country. Our lowest income families pay a far higher percentage of their income in taxes than the top 1 percent. And our tax base has been steadily eroding over the last 20 years, meaning we can’t bring in the revenue needed for high quality schools. If you take the combined taxes all Washingtonians pay, our tax rate in this state has dropped from #11 in the nation twenty years ago to #35 today, right behind Mississippi. We need to undertake serious reform of our revenue system in order to invest in strong communities and schools.

Transportation Budget

For the first time in over a decade, we are making significant new investments in Washington’s transportation infrastructure. I returned from what ended up being a one- day vacation in Maine in order to vote on the final piece of our new transportation investment package. In our communities, you will see projects to alleviate congestion, improve access to businesses, and make our transportation system safer for all users.

In the 32nd District, you will see signage improvements near 145th Street in Shoreline to improve traffic flow and provide information on incidents, ferry wait times and emergencies. The transportation budget also includes $25 million for improvements on 145th in anticipation of the new light rail station. Additionally, funding is provided for new on and off ramps at I-5 and 196th Street SW in Lynnwood. These improvements will decrease drive time, increase safety and keep the 32nd District moving.

Capital Budget

The state’s new $3.9 billion capital budget will create up to 44,000 jobs across Washington to build schools, universities, mental health facilities and parks. Some of the projects and programs in the 32nd District that are supported by the capital budget include:

  1. International Community Health Services Shoreline Medical and Dental Clinic – a non-profit community health center that offers affordable health services to underserved populations with a focus on Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.
  2. A partnership between Hopelink, Compass Housing Alliance and Ronald United Methodist Church to build affordable housing in Shoreline with onsite support services and a food bank.
  3. Expansion of Esperance Park – funds are provided to acquire 3.4 acres of lands adjacent to the park to preserve open space create more opportunities for recreation.

I appreciated hearing from many of you during session, and look forward to hearing your comments and concerns in the months ahead.  Please contact me with any issues you have where I might be of assistance.

I hope you had an enjoyable summer.  It is difficult to watch the consequences of our beautiful summer for our friends on the east side of the state as their forests burn and their homes are threatened.  Please hold them in your thoughts and prayers as the firefighters continue to battle the firestorms of the summer.

Best regards,