As with every legislative session, there were a number of successes and disappointments during the 105 days we convened at the Capitol this year. I wanted to begin this update by discussing one of the session's major bipartisan successes: record capital budget funding ($308.1 million) for mental and behavioral health facilities around the state:
- $120 million in Behavioral Health Capacity grants for community mental health facilities;
- $35 million from the Housing Trust Fund for supportive housing with wrap-around services for the chronically mentally ill;
- $33.7 million to plan and design a behavioral health teaching facility run by the University of Washington (House Bill 1593);
- $64.4 million for patient safety and other necessary upgrades at Western and Eastern State Hospitals; and
- $55 million to increase and improve capacity at Western State Hospital and new state-run community settings.
As the assistant ranking member of the House Capital Budget Committee, it has been my honor to lead our efforts on this issue. Since the 2013-15 biennium, we have increased capital budget funding for mental and behavioral health by more than 1,400%—from $20.4 million to $308.1 million.
While past failures in this space have been well-documented, I was so proud to see Republicans and Democrats come together this session to say, 'It doesn't have to be this way any longer.' The investments we are making to build out the state's mental and behavioral health safety net are going to offer hope and change lives for the better. We are are going to be training another generation of people who will invest their hearts, lives and careers into those who are hurting, helping them regain hope for their futures. There is still more to do, of course, but this session represented a monumental step forward as we continue making mental and behavioral health the priority it should be.
Local projects funded by 2019-21 capital budget
Along with record investments in mental and behavioral health infrastructure, as well as increased funding for K-12 school construction, higher education facilities, low-income housing, natural resources and more, the 2019-21 capital budget makes critical investments in our 10th District communities. Rep. Dave Paul and I worked closely together to secure $28.5 million in local project funding. Some of the investments include:
- Grants for the Oak Harbor Tri-County Behavioral Health Center – $1 million
- Skagit County Sheriff Emergency Communication System – $1 million
- Coupeville Boys and Girls Club – $849,000
- Oak Harbor Boys and Girls Club – $743,000
- La Conner Regional Library improvements – $720,000
- Wiley Slough Dike Repair – $3.9 million
- Samish Hatchery improvements – $7.7 million
- Local estuary and salmon restoration projects – $1.2 million
- Preservation of Ebey's National Historic Reserve – $1 million
- Camp Korey Youth Recreational Facilities Grant – $545,000
- Oak Harbor Marina – $400,000
- Three Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program farm preservation projects – $810,000
As someone who spent much of the past several months in negotiations on this budget, I can truly say it's the best capital budget we've produced in my time as a state representative. It will make a tremendous difference for many people in our local communities and around the state.
2019-21 transportation budget a strong bipartisan achievement
The transportation budget allocates money for maintenance and development of the state's transportation infrastructure, such as roads, ferries and ferry terminals, bridges, and more.
The 2019-21 budget we approved this year includes more than $524 million over the next 14 years for local transportation projects in the 10th District. This includes new and previously allocated funding: $188 million is provided for a new hybrid electric ferry to travel the Clinton-to-Mukilteo route, and $860,000 is provided for development of the Clinton-to-Ken's Corner trail system.
It's a strong budget that recognizes our ferries as essential marine highways and makes a commitment to ensuring we are building a new generation of ferries to replace our aging fleet. It also invests in fish passage barrier removal to open up habitat across the state, while addressing essential needs in our communities that will strengthen their viability and vitality for years to come.
2019-21 operating budget increases spending 18%, relies on new taxes
Unfortunately, passage of the 2019-21 operating budget was nothing like passage of the capital or transportation budgets. The majority party shut Republicans out of negotiations and then brought a number of tax increase measures to the floor in the dead of night on the final weekend of session.
It was an extremely disappointing and divisive end to the 105-day session, especially after there had been a lot of good and collaborative work done in a variety of other areas.
The 2019-21 operating budget spends $52.4 billion, an 18% increase in spending from current levels. It also relies on $2 billion in new tax increases over the next four years, including:
- A business and occupation (B&O) tax surcharge on services that will impact 90,000 employers and raise costs for consumers.
- A new, graduated real estate excise tax (REET) that will restrict housing supply, increase rents and harm our economy.
- A higher tax on oil that will increase the price of gas.
- A B&O tax increase on large banks that will result in costs being passed on to customers (see “A troubling short cut for state tax increase on banks” editorial below, as well as the other editorials detailing the majority's lack of transparency in passing new taxes this session).
- A change to the nonresident sales tax exemption, which will result in fewer Oregonians shopping at Washington businesses in our border communities.
Keep in mind this $2 billion doesn't include the majority's levy lift bill (SB 5313), which will increase property taxes for families across the state by modifying the amount local levies can collect for K-12 enrichment programs.
At a time when the state has historic revenues and a $2.8 billion surplus, the last thing the majority should've been focused on this session was how much more to take from Washington families. They could've chosen a fiscally responsible approach, but instead chose to raise your taxes in order to increase spending, all while shutting you out of the process. That's wrong. You should've been afforded the opportunity to weigh in. Instead, tax increases were approved while you were sleeping and the budget passed 20 minutes before midnight on the final day of session.
For more on the process, I encourage you to read these recent editorials from The News Tribune, The Everett Herald, and The Seattle Times:
- New tax hard to swallow; Washington Democrats pull fast one in Legislature's last weekend
- A troubling short cut for state tax increase on banks
- Washington lawmakers dodge the constitution with title-only bills
I was also troubled that several members of the majority party voted against the tax increase proposals when they came to the floor, but then voted in favor of the final operating budget—which relies on those very same tax increases. In my view, if you're going to vote in favor of a budget that relies on tax increases, you should have the political courage to vote for the tax increases themselves.
I've received thousands of emails, phone calls and letters from constituents this session. As I work to respond to each one, I just want to express my gratitude to you for your continued input on a wide range of important issues. Your feedback is always helpful in guiding my decisions as a legislator. Please continue contacting me, and I will do my best to respond as quickly as possible.
It is an honor to serve you.