A budget is a reflection of shared values: Do we support those who are struggling, or do we tell them to fend for themselves? Do we recognize that we all do better when we all do better, or do we chock up struggle to a lack of personal responsibility? These were some of the overarching questions of the budget process this year, as priorities became clear.
From the start, Democrats fought hard against Senate Republican proposed budget cuts that would decimate the foundations of our state public health and education infrastructure. Senate Republicans fought to cut funding to state hospitals, homecare worker health care, temporary food & cash assistance grants, services for clients with disabilities, housing & homelessness programs, state workforce benefits, and family services. We opposed these cuts because they are quite simply bad policy for Washington State, not to mention antithetical to our Democratic values.
Our budget policy goals this year included strengthening the social safety net, investing in K-12 basic education, and taking legislative action to fight climate change – that’s the budget Democrats fought hard for, and won. Together, we:
- Expanded early childhood education slots for low-income families,
- Boosted funding for the State Need Grant so students can access financial aid for college,
- Increased funding for crucial mental and public health programs as well as Medicaid, ramping up efforts to fight the opioid crisis and reduce homelessness rates,
- Added funding for assistance programs to keep youth and families off the streets and for state food and temporary assistance to families in need,
- Fully funded the Clean Air Rule, taking a significant step to hold big business accountable for polluting practices,
- Extended a major solar power incentive program, expanding renewable energy and creating jobs in one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy,
- And, we included $7.3 billion in new funding for K-12 education—keeping our promise to 1.1 million schoolchildren.
We are committed to investing in children, students, and working families to build a better Washington for generations to come. But these investments come at a cost. With Democrats in control of the House and Republicans in control of the Senate, we had almost no common ground on how to fund the increased budget needs in education. Republicans wanted to increase property taxes by $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed value, a steep increase that would have gravely impacted middle-class families across the state.
Democrats want those who benefit from the state’s steady economic growth to pay their fair share. This means progressive tax reform and new revenue sources: a capital gains tax, a change to real estate taxes to help middle class families afford a home, a carbon tax designed to mitigate the impact on low-income folks, and the closure of tax breaks that no longer made any sense. For months, Republicans refused to negotiate a deal that would not hit working families harder than big business, preferring to run down the clock and force a government shutdown rather than do the jobs we were elected to do.
Although the state hasn’t raised property taxes in many years, local governments and voter-approved initiatives have. In a divided government, compromise is the only way to accomplish our goals. To avoid a shutdown, fully fund education, and generate new revenue, we agreed to a compromise.
In the end, Republicans got the property tax increase they fought tooth and nail for, but Democrats argued them down to $0.82 per $1,000 in assessed value. We voted for this compromise because a shutdown to the government would be catastrophic to tens of thousands of families in our state, hurt the most vulnerable who rely on state services, potentially wreck a credit rating we rely on to fund public works projects, and do nothing to further negotiations. We weren’t willing to play games with people’s lives.
Democrats got a Democratic budget, investments where they are needed without drastic cuts, and some of our proposed revenue plan—including closing several tax breaks we have wanted to end, such as:
- Closing the tax break on extracted fuel that refineries had taken advantage of for years means large oil corporations will be contributing to fully funding education.
- Ending the sales tax exemption for bottled water, an environmental goal for Democrats for years.
Republicans got their Republican Property Tax Plan, but Democrats argued them down to $0.82 per $1,000 in assessed value. We voted for this compromise because a shutdown to the government would be catastrophic to tens of thousands of families in our state, hurt the most vulnerable who rely on state services, potentially wreck a credit rating we rely on to fund public works projects, and do nothing to further negotiations.
Also passed in the tax plan was a tax cut for manufacturers. We signed a letter to Gov. Inslee encouraging him to veto that part of the plan–which he did. We won’t support an override of the veto and agree that cutting business taxes while raising property taxes is the wrong thing to do.
Frankly, we share the disappointment and frustration of many of you who have engaged with this budget process from the beginning. We fought tooth and nail to lower the rate of property tax increase, and we are committed to continuing the fight for progressive tax reform in WA state. While the property taxes were the last revenue option we wanted to consider, they do fund a budget that invests heavily in Seattle schools, teacher salaries, class-size reduction, learning assistance, bilingual instruction, special education, and low-performing schools. .
Fulfilling our funding obligations for the next biennium has been a long road. We look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues – and all of you – to build broader support for the progressive values of the Democratic caucus.
Thanks for reading!