Hello from Olympia!
Budget negotiations have begun! As House and Senate budget leaders gather to hammer out the differences between their two proposals, there are some ‘must dos,’ including education, mental health and child protection. There are also ‘should dos,’ which include programs with proven results like early learning and higher education.
Making these investments requires us to think about what we value and need in our society. In order just to meet our constitutional requirements to fully fund basic education, we need to raise new revenue. This will be the biggest sticking point between the two budgets—making responsible funding choices that are fair and sustainable or using one-time payments, gimmicks and shortchanging critical employees.
I want to share some components in the different plans and what I hope ends up in the final budget we send to the governor. (In last week’s e-newsletter, I focused on education funding and the major concerns I have with the Senate’s proposal, which you can read here.)
- Developmental Disabilities: I am thrilled that both chambers include 5,000 expanded slots for those with developmental disabilities. We rely on caregivers to care for our most vulnerable seniors and those with disabilities. However, staff haven’t received a raise in six years. The House recognizes that this is unfair and wrong, and funds additional compensation for these providers. The Senate does not, making it difficult to fill open positions and retain staff. This exacerbates delivery problems for our vulnerable populations which we must solve.
- Food Security: Dependable access to food is something many of us take for granted. In fact, 1 in 5 Washingtonians rely on food from their local food banks to avoid hunger. Important programs like Breakfast After the Bell (for school-aged students) and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) are fully funded in the proposed House budget, but receive nothing in the Senate. The Farmers Market Nutrition Program, important to health and farmers alike, is funded in both budgets.
- Research & Development Tax Credit: Washington’s ongoing tech boom has played a vital role in the recovery of our economy. This tax credit helps ensure that we remain leaders in the new economy by encouraging innovative ideas and products. This is not funded in the House budget, but is in the Senate.Let’s keep up the support for this key sector.
- Life Science Discovery Fund: This fund is critical for the biotech and research fields that result in so many life-saving discoveries and medicines. The House funds the Life Science Discovery Fund, while the Senate does not.
- Extended Foster Care Services: The last group of kids in the foster care system, those with medical and mental health issues, will soon have access to extended care until they are 21. The Senate includes $5 million, which will not cover all the foster children in the system. How can we pick and choose which of these kids will or won’t get the care they need? We must embrace this policy–and the funding–needed to fulfill it. The House budget includes funds to ensure every foster child receives the care they need.
- Higher Ed Scholarships: There are particularly good nuggets for higher education funding in both budgets. Right now 32,000 college students are on the waiting list for the State Need Grant. The House budget adds $53 million to ensure that low-income families have a chance to succeed. The Senate, however, makes a $75 million cut to the Grant to pay for their bottom line in an attempt to balance their budget.Both the House and Senate fund a program expanding computer science education access in our schools to ensure our high-tech industry can ‘hire local.’ The House and Senate also fund at equal levels the Health Professional Loan Repayment Fund, which provides financial incentives to medical providers if they practice in rural or underserved communities after graduating.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): TANF helps our neediest families meet their most basic needs from housing and transportation to groceries and just getting by. The House includes $32 million in various programs for these vulnerable populations, while the Senate actually makes reductions.
Stay in touch!
The items mentioned above are just a handful of issues I chose to highlight. Of course, there are dozens and dozens of others in the roughly $38 billion budget.
Thanks to all of you who have been writing and e-mailing your thoughts and opinions. Your input is invaluable! If you have questions about the budget or any bill you’ve seen or heard, let me know.
Enjoy the great weather!