Washington Legislature adjourns for a year, passing $64 billion budget and $17 billion transportation package

Laurel Demkovich / The Spokesperson Review

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers wrapped up their work Thursday, passing the state budget along party lines and completing other important legislation.

The Legislative Assembly adjourned for the year on Thursday just before the midnight deadline with more than half of its members – masked and mostly socially distant – in person on the floor after starting the almost entirely virtual January session. .

Both houses spent the last day of their 60-day session passing a $64 billion supplementary budget, a new transport package, a bill allowing legislative staff to enter collective bargaining in 2024 and a program government student loans.

“We are coming out of a very difficult time with this pandemic and the recovery has not been positive for everyone,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane. “But we have a lot of progress ahead of us.”

The operating budget was passed by both houses along party lines.

Lawmakers entered the session with $5 billion more in state revenue than expected and $1.2 billion more in federal COVID-19 relief funds that had not yet been spent. The $64 billion supplementary budget passed Thursday includes investments in K-12 education, behavioral health, COVID-19 pandemic recovery, housing and more.

The budget leaves $800 million in reserves for the next two years, plus an additional $2.75 billion in a set aside account to help Washington recover from the COVID-19 pandemic or similar emergency.

There are no tax increases or general tax reductions in the budget. Some Democratic tax proposals, including a three-day sales tax holiday around Labor Day weekend and free state fairs and parks, were not included in the final budget.

“People are generally aware that there was a ton of extra money and they got none of it,” House Minority Leader JT Wilcox, R-Yelm, told reporters on Thursday.

Gov. Jay Inslee praised lawmakers for their work this session.

“Sixty days ago, I asked lawmakers to take big, bold action, and they took big, bold action 60 days later,” Inslee said at a press conference after the end of the session.

Inslee’s budget he proposed in December focused on big investments in housing, salmon and climate. Although some of his major policy proposals fell through, his office said many of his priorities were reflected in the final budget.

On housing, lawmakers approved $50 million to stop people living in encampments on public roads, which Inslee had proposed in its budget.

On climate change and clean energy, Inslee’s office said it was disappointed the Legislature did not pass “critical elements of our path to net zero emissions,” including changing building codes and requiring new buildings to use materials that minimize emissions.

Lawmakers have also used their extra money to invest in the Transportation and Capital Budgets, which fund transportation, infrastructure and construction projects across the state.

The 16-year, $17 billion transportation program will fund maintenance, transit and other projects across the state, including a bus rapid transit line on Division Street in Spokane. The package uses funding from the cap and trade program passed last year, federal infrastructure funds and a one-time transfer of $2 billion plus $56 million a year from the operating budget.

Inslee’s office praised the transportation package passed by the Legislative Assembly, calling it a “transformational, once-in-a-generation feat.”

Republicans pushed against the package, criticizing the fee increases included in the proposal and saying they had no say in negotiating the final package. Republicans wanted to use some of the motor vehicle sales tax money to pay for part of the package. This proposal was not accepted by the Democrats.

The transportation committee’s senior Republican, Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, said he wouldn’t vote for the package because of the way it came together without Republican input.

While there are good things, Barkis said his party’s priorities are different.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said the session was incredibly productive and that Democrats achieved their goals, including addressing climate change, racial inequality and recovering from COVID-19.

“We wanted to make sure everyone got out of that budget,” Jinkins said. “And that’s what you see.”

Much of the session was also dominated by amending bills passed in previous years, including the long-term care tax and a number of police reform bills.

Lawmakers worked quickly early in the session to push through a postponement of the implementation of a long-term care payroll tax that began in January. The 0.58% payroll tax is earmarked for a program called WA Cares, which provides a benefit of up to $36,500 to those who qualify for professional care at home or in a facility, safety assessments at home, equipment and transportation.

Collection of the tax is now postponed until July 2023, giving lawmakers time to fix the program that many have called insolvent.

Along with the delay, lawmakers made some changes, including allowing more tax exemptions for people who live outside of Washington but work in the state and some veterans with a service-related disability of 70% or more.

The Legislative Assembly also worked quickly to debate some adjustments to the police reform bills passed last session. Two proposals received broad support, including one to add more clarity to allow law enforcement officers to respond to mental health calls and one to allow agencies to purchase non-lethal weapons.

A bill to redefine the use of force has passed the Legislative Assembly, giving law enforcement the ability to use physical force to stop a person from actively fleeing a scene. Many Democrats wanted the definition to include the “intentional and active” leaking of a scene, but that was removed in the final version.

Another bill that dealt with vehicular pursuits failed to make it out of the legislature, failing to get it out of the Senate in time on the final day. It would have allowed officers to engage in car chases when there is a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a person has committed or is committing a violent offence, non-violent sexual offence, escape or driving under the influence offense and that, when not prosecuted, there is a serious risk of harm to others.

The bill was a priority for Republicans who have made solving police reform bills a priority this session.

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