Washington Legislature set to adjourn session for 60 days
Washington lawmakers are gearing up to wrap up Thursday with final votes on a state supplemental budget and transportation revenue package before adjourning their legislative session for 60 days.
Changes to the state’s current two-year operating budget were released Wednesday following negotiations between House and Senate Democratic budget writers. In addition to state funds, the budget uses more than $1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
The compromise budget builds on the two-year, $59 billion spending plan passed by the Legislative Assembly last year and is similar to initial proposals released last month by both houses, with significant spending in various areas including efforts to reduce homelessness, adding more social supports like nurses and counselors for students, behavioral health, and ongoing pandemic response including rental and service assistance public for people trying to avoid eviction.
While there is no across-the-board tax increase, there are also no across-the-board tax cuts, which Republicans had argued should have been on the table given the large influx. of income that the State has recorded during the past year.
The operating budget also transfers more than $2 billion to the transportation revenue program of nearly $17 billion over 16 years. Lawmakers reached a final deal Wednesday on the package after finding another source for $2 billion of the overall funding after scaling back an initial proposal to tax fuel exported from the state’s five refineries that was heavily criticized. by neighboring states. To fill this hole, for the next 15 years, the agreed plan takes an additional $57 million a year from the state budget and an additional $57 million a year from the state public works account.
The transportation revenue package is being spent on projects ranging from building new hybrid electric ferries and funding more pedestrian and cycle corridors to maintaining roads and replacing fish crossing culverts. Funding is also provided to ensure that people aged 18 and under can use public transport for free.
Unlike previous packages that included gas tax increases, this plan gets the bulk of its funding — $5.4 billion — from a carbon pricing program signed last year that forces the most large state emitters, such as refineries, to buy credits for permitted emissions if they exceed a cap set by regulators.
Lawmakers had already reached agreement on a $1.5 billion state construction budget that spends on areas ranging from housing and homelessness to behavioral health facilities to earthquake improvements in public schools. This budget was approved by both houses with unanimous support this week and is heading to Governor Jay Inslee for his signature.