2019 Session Report Part 3: Operating Budget and Workforce Development

Dear friends and neighbors,

As promised, this third installment of my End of Session series includes information on the operating budget, as well as some of the measures we passed to strengthen our workforce.

We had a good, productive session with notable and numerous victories, but other important issues were left unresolved either because they didn’t make a deadline or because there wasn’t enough support. I think it’s important we address those too, and I will do so in my next newsletter. I will also include information on the revenue package and its impact on families and businesses.

As always, I truly appreciate your interest and I welcome both your questions and feedback.



Operating Budget Highlights


There are three state budgets, capital, operating and transportation. The operating budget funds legislation passed this session, as well as ongoing state programs and services. This budget will make a difference for many families across the state because it reflects our values–it is our commitment to provide opportunities by investing in Washington’s greatest asset, its people.

Here are some of the highlights of this two-year operating budget:

Behavioral Health:

  • $47 million to expand community behavioral health beds and services.
  • $92 million in this biennium to ensure the stability of state hospitals and the safety of patients and staff.

Affordable Housing: 

  • $15 million focused on permanent supportive housing and youth homelessness.
  • $14.5 million for the Housing and Essential Needs Program, which helps people with disabilities who are struggling to find or maintain housing.


  • $155 million for additional special education funding ($294 million over four years).
  • $12 million for paraeducator training.
  • $2.5 million additional funding for student mental health and safety.
  • $500k to support FIRST Washington Robotics programs in grades 4-12.

Other investments:

  • $35 million to expand Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) slots and rate increases.
  • $146k for Medical Care Services Program, which provides health care coverage to legally present recipients of Aged, Blind, or Disabled cash assistance, and the Housing and Essential Needs Referral program who are unable to access other programs due to their citizenship / immigration status.
  • $31 million to improve habitat and protect Orcas.
  • $9 million to eliminate the backlog in testing sexual assault kits.
  • $24 million in state general funds to increase our wildfire response and address natural disasters.
  • $4.5 million to expand rural broadband.

Securing a Strong Workforce

We’ll have about 740,000 job openings over the next five years and 70 percent of them will need credentials beyond high school. Currently only 40 percent of students complete any training or education programs after graduating. This results in a huge skills gap between young people and good jobs, and businesses having to seek qualified workers out of state or even abroad. To meet the needs of a 21st-century economy, we passed several bills, including:

Workforce Education Investment Act

I am so proud to have been one of the sponsors of the Workforce Education Investment Act, a comprehensive package to expand access to post-secondary education. It’s such a groundbreaking and innovative plan that it made news across the nation, with stories in the Seattle Times, the New York Times, and Forbes, among many others.

HB2158 Rotunda pic

The Workforce Education Investment Act does a number of things:

Affordable College

Expanding and fully funding the Washington College Grant (formerly State Need Grant), to provide free public college tuition for families making up to 55% of state median income ($50K/year in 2019 for a family of four) and partial assistance to families making up to 100% of state median income ($92K/year).

Career Connected Learning

We worked hard to get the policy from one of the bills I sponsored, HB 1336, into this package. It addresses the skills gap by establishing a work group to carry out and expand career connected learning opportunities.

Opportunity Scholarship Fund Contributions

A few years ago, the Legislature created the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship Program to help low- and middle-income students complete 2 or 4-year degrees in high-demand fields.  The state got the ball rolling with $5 million, while Boeing and Microsoft pitched in $25 million each. Last session we added $25 million to the Opportunity Scholarship fund to encourage more participation. This year, I sponsored legislation to expand the definition of private sources and to increase contributions. The bill stalled in committee, but we included the policy in the Workforce Education Investment Act, by allowing donations from tribes, cities and counties.

The integration of both of these bills created a stronger measure that will help people get the training and credentials they need to land family-wage jobs. Additionally, the Workforce Education Investment Act will fund other key policies, such as:

  • The Washington Student Loan Program.
  • Guided Pathways program at Community and Technical Colleges
  • Counselors & advisers at regional universities
  • Working Connections Child Care for working parents
  • Expanded enrollment at the WSU Medical School

Read more about these investments here.

We also passed some important measures to address
the health care workforce shortage in Washington state:

International Medical Graduates

Doc and nurse

My father was a rural physician who showed me the value of primary care and serving community. That’s one of the reasons it was a priority for me to find a solution to a current issue that not many people are aware of:

On the one hand, we have a health care workforce shortage and, on the other, we have a pool of medical professionals who struggle to get licensed in Washington because they got their degrees abroad.

We passed legislation establishing a work group that will develop recommendations for a program to aid international medical graduates in overcoming barriers to practice in Washington state. This workforce is an untapped resource that could provide more accessible primary care to our vulnerable communities.

Washington Health Corps 

As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, I was happy to sponsor a bill to establish the Washington Health Corps to encourage health care professionals to work in underserved areas by providing student loan repayment through the Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program.

UW Behavioral Health Campus

This measure creates a behavioral health innovation and integration campus within the UW School of Medicine. It will be one of the first in the nation to provide an innovative and holistic approach to behavioral health crises. With up to 150 new beds for behavioral health patients at UW and a robust tele-psychiatry program, this campus will not only tackle the shortage of care for people in crisis, but also encourage the training of mental health care professionals that are sorely needed in every part of our state.