Budget deal reached in Olympia pays for tenant relief, mental health and student loan program
OLYMPIA — Democratic lawmakers in Washington on Wednesday announced a $64.1 billion budget deal that injects new dollars into government programs and funds a new transportation program, raises for state employees, aid to housing and the launch of a new student loan program.
With higher-than-expected tax revenues, the Democratic budget framers spread billions of dollars around the government without raising new taxes.
They also haven’t done much to cut taxes, despite minority Republicans calling for tax breaks. Even several of the Democrats’ tax relief proposals — a sales tax holiday and free admission to state parks and the Washington State Fair — weren’t included in the budget. final.
In remarks Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers touted $351 million in increased funding for long-term care facilities, $45 million for rent assistance to prevent evictions and more dollars for the housing system. state mental health.
The agreement represents “our collective values” as state residents chart a path out of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle.
“And to make meaningful investments in the families and small businesses that we know have been hardest hit in these tough economic times,” Macri added at the meeting where the deal was announced.
The supplemental budget adds billions to the state’s two-year, $59 billion operating budget approved last year. Washington’s operating budget funds a multitude of government programs, from prisons, schools, parks and public lands, to residential care and mental health services.
Perhaps the biggest move was a one-time, off-budget $2 billion transfer — along with a smaller, ongoing amount planned for years to come — to fund a new 16-year transportation package. Lawmakers also announced a final deal on the package on Wednesday.
The final agreement on the supplementary budget spends $261 million in increases for state workers, which for most workers will be a 3.25% increase in the fiscal year that begins July 1, and $236 million to account for inflation in K-12 worker wages, school supplies, equipment, and operating costs.
The deal announced Wednesday also uses remaining federal coronavirus aid, allocating $345 million to stabilize school districts struggling with declining enrollment. It is also investing $215 million in federal dollars to help the hospitality and convention industries, the arts sector and small businesses.
The agreement allocates $200 million in grants to help communities disproportionately affected by criminal laws and penalties for the illegal sale and possession of drugs. That money would be used for economic development, legal aid, violence prevention and rehabilitation services, according to budget documents.
It is also spending $150 million to design a public student loan program. The details of this program, which was proposed in the 1736 House Bill, still need to be determined before implementing it, said Senator Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.
An additional $350 million is intended to bolster the state’s paid family leave program, which has been so popular it has run out of funds.
Even with the influx of taxpayer money, Democrats have resisted calls from Republicans — who are in the minority in the House and Senate — for broad tax cuts like property or sales tax cuts. by retail.
Since the start of the legislative session in January, Democratic lawmakers have talked about a brief sales tax holiday and funding free admission to state parks and the Washington State Fair. But they abandoned those proposals, which they said were too logistically difficult to implement.
At the start of the legislative session, Democrats also raised the possibility of extending a tax exemption to low-income families, a concept supported by some Republicans. A law long on the books but never funded, lawmakers last year finally earmarked dollars to push it forward. But an expansion does not appear to have been part of the budget deal either.
“We got no tax relief, no substantial, meaningful, real tax relief,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver and a ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, at the meeting where the agreement has been announced.
The new budget provides $13 million in business and professional tax relief for small businesses. That’s enough to provide reductions to about 125,000 small business owners, or about 70% of businesses in the state, according to Rolfes, the Senate Democratic budget editor.
Starting Jan. 1, businesses earning less than $125,000 won’t have to pay business and professional tax, Rolfes said. For businesses earning more than that, and up to $250,000 a year, the existing tax burden is cut in half, she said.
In terms of environment and conservation, the budget agreement provides $83 million for salmon recovery projects. And it is providing one-time funding to install 150 additional electric vehicle charging stations in Washington state. Other funding will be used to build solar projects that serve low-income communities.
Lawmakers have less than 48 hours to read the new budget and transportation funding agreements before a vote scheduled for Thursday, the scheduled last day of the legislative session.