Sine Die, the final day of the regularly scheduled session is only a few days away. Or is it?
While some progress has been made on several key issues, discussion on the operating budget, including $8 billion in new taxes proposed by the House Democrats, will likely take us into overtime. If you are frustrated by this outcome, you are not alone.
To be clear, no “official” announcement has been made. However, it's looking like a special session will be required to work out a solution on the operating budget.
Education funding principles at stake
While it is unclear how long negotiations may take, the main argument is over how to fund basic education. Both the Democrat and Republican plans increase K-12 funding by about $1.3 billion, but the way they get there is very different.
There are several key education funding principles at stake, including local levy reform. The Republican plan would lower the amount of property taxes that school districts can collect locally, and replace it with a flat state-wide property tax.
This would mean property owners in urban areas, like those in the greater Seattle area, would likely pay a higher assessment rate than they do now, while more rural areas, with lesser property values, would pay a lower rate. This plan would amply fund basic education, without the need for massive tax increases, like those proposed by House Democrats.
Is there any good news?
Sure there is! The House overwhelmingly approved a strongly supported bi-partisan capital budget for the 2017-19 biennium. The plan first passed the Senate by a vote of 49-0. When it arrived in the House, it was amended and approved by a vote of 96-2, with 2 excused (not voting).
As the ranking minority member for the House Capital Budget Committee, I helped design the two-year plan that not only gives a boost to education construction, but also makes a hefty investment into building a stronger mental health care net.
The capital budget includes $4.15 billion in total spending. It also would leave $100 million for next year's supplemental budget, and appropriates $2.47 billion in bonds.
Education was clearly prioritized with over $1 billion set aside for the School Construction Assistance Program (SCAP). This high level of funding will help address the record number of voter approved bonds passed this year for new school construction and remodeling. This is an increase of nearly $450 million over the previous biennium. Other education investments include $802 million for higher education facilities.
Mental health care needs were also addressed with an allocation of more than $120 million for community-based and institutional construction projects including:
- 128 new minimum security beds for female offenders with mental health diagnosis's at Maple Lake.
- Targeted, statewide investments in behavioral health community capacity.
- Security updates and renovations at Eastern and Western State Hospitals.
- Funds for the development of a statewide plan for future mental health construction needs.
Local projects for the 20th District
Our communities will see a wide variety of investments for local projects in this proposed capital budget, ranging from upgrades to the Maple Lane Corrections Center (noted above), the Centralia Readiness Center, the Green Hill School campus, to a facilities grant for the Boys and Girls Club of Chehalis.
There is also an allocation for the Southwest Washington Agricultural Park and industrial infrastructure development in Winlock. Other local projects include upgrades for the Rochester Boys and Girls club, money for the Lewis County Fire District services building, and renovation costs for the Pearl Street Memorial Pool.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out to my office throughout this legislative session. Please continue to call and email me about the ongoing budget negotiations and other state government related issues. You can reach me by email at email@example.com, or call my office at (360) 786-7896.