Education wins in final budget

2009-Smily-Headshot-medium.jpgA week has passed since the end of the second (and final) special session this year and I’ve finally put socks and shoes on and shaved. This was an exhausting exercise as the Senate Republicans figured out how they were going to make decisions. I’m pleased we were able to get it done at the end, but would have preferred to have not come so close to the deadline for shutting down most state services.

The final budget addresses most of my priorities:

  • $1 billion in new funding for K-12 education, part of our effort at addressing our constitutional requirement to amply provide for the education of all children. This is not as much as I believe the court is asking us to do, but it’s a significant step.
  • A 12.4% increase in funding for our higher education system, enough that our colleges and universities will be able to avoid any increases in tuition this year. $18 million of this total is earmarked to add additional capacity for computer science and engineering. Every one of these students will be employed when they graduate, the majority locally. This has been the biggest ask from the business community.
  • Adding healthcare for almost 300,000 additional Washingtonians at federal expense. Our implementation of the new Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) actually saves the state almost $300 million, and will bring billions in new economic activity to Washington in addition to fixing some of the pathology of the existing healthcare system.
  • Preservation of existing social service programs taking care of foster children, providing nursing home support for low-income seniors, and caring for the mentally ill. The tragedy in Seattle over the weekend brings home the fragility of our mental health system. See “Cops kill condo gunman after long standoff” in the Seattle Times.

The budget looks a lot like the one I wrote several months ago with the differences concentrated in where the money came from, not how it was spent. Our original budget raised revenue by closing outdated tax loopholes (or exemptions, if you prefer that spin). The final budget only closed two loopholes: a court decision that created huge loopholes in the estate tax was corrected and an update to telecommunications taxes that was agreed to by every company in the industry. The budget depended on one-time revenue sources for the rest of the solution, as the Senate Republicans had an aversion to increases in revenue. The Seattle Times laid this out in an editorial this weekend why this is not a stable solution in the long-run:

By most measures, the Legislature will need to add another $1 billion to K-12. Doing so within the existing tax code is unrealistic. The Legislature wisely added a sunset clause and transparency requirements to some tax exemptions. Lawmakers should build on that, taking a hard look at the state’s swiss-cheese tax code and target unjustified exemptions.

There are parts of the session I am less pleased with. The Senate failed to approve a new transportation revenue package, which puts crucial work on I-405, several intersections on SR-520, and the next step on the 520 bridge at risk. Allowing counties to raise funds for local transit choices was held up by this as well. This will be a problem in King County – significant reductions in transit capacity will result. The Governor is thinking through options here and if we can come to an agreement he may choose to bring us back together in the Fall to resolve this.

I’m also concerned that we were unable to pass legislation that would have required background checks on gun purchases, something that 80% or more of my constituents agree with. We all wonder how the gunman in the condo killing referenced above got his handgun, despite clear indications he was mentally ill, and we should figure out how to improve this system.


Author: Ross

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.