Since my last update, we've seen the introduction of the three major budgets we pass every biennium—operating, transportation and capital. The operating budget pays for the day-to-day operations of state government, the transportation budget pays for road construction and maintenance, as well as ferries and public transit, and the capital budget funds the building of public schools, higher education facilities, mental and behavioral health facilities, state buildings, public lands, parks, and other assets.
More often than not, budget writers developing the transportation and capital budgets work closely together and craft largely bipartisan proposals that receive near-unanimous approval. Unfortunately, that's not the case when it comes to the operating budget. And the reason for that is a fundamental difference of opinion when it comes to the need for billions in new spending and taxes.
Take the House Democrats' 2019-21 operating budget proposal, for example. It increases spending by $8.5 billion, while increasing taxes by $4.2 billion over the next four years. If their budget is adopted, we will have seen a 70% increase in state spending since 2013. Have you seen a similar increase in your budget?
The reality is many of our friends and neighbors are struggling to make ends meet. They look at our spending and wonder why it's so unconstrained. They also wonder why new taxes are being considered at a time when the state is seeing record revenues and a $3 billion surplus. The fact is most Washingtonians don't have an appetite for tax increases. We've seen that at the ballot box time and time again. In 2016 and again in 2018, voters rejected a carbon tax. In 2010, voters rejected a state income tax by 28 points, while repealing state taxes on candy, soft drinks and bottled water. Voters have repeatedly said 'no,' and budget writers have repeatedly ignored their wishes.
Instead of asking for more, wouldn't it make more sense to be fiscally responsible and prioritize spending within existing revenues? And why must we insist on spending every dime of revenue you've provided us? After all, we know an economic downturn is going to come eventually. If a recession hits and we have insufficient reserves, what will come next are cuts. And those cuts will be far more painful than us taking a fiscally disciplined approach now.
As far as the Senate Democrats' operating budget proposal goes, it's a little bit more reasonable. It still increases spending and raises taxes, but it spends $1 billion less and relies on $3.1 billion less in new taxes. I will reiterate, however, that we should not be raising taxes at a time when you've already provided us record revenues in which to fund our shared priorities.
House and Senate budget writers are currently in negotiations on a final operating budget. It is my hope they will do the right thing by putting our state in a good position to weather an economic downturn, and not raising taxes.
Record mental and behavioral health funding in House capital budget proposal
As I mentioned above, developing a two-year capital budget is a much more bipartisan process than developing the operating budget. I have seen first-hand the good work being done by members on both sides of the aisle to ensure we're adequately funding our shared priorities and spending capital budget dollars wisely.
One of my top priorities is improving our mental and behavioral health system in Washington state. As the assistant ranking member of the House Capital Budget Committee, it is my honor to lead our efforts on this issue. I'm delighted to report that a record $357 million in funding for mental and behavioral health facilities is included in the House capital budget proposal we rolled out recently:
- $117 million in Behavioral Health Capacity grants for community mental health facilities;
- $99 million to increase and improve capacity at Western State Hospital, Eastern State Hospital, and state-run community settings;
- $77.5 million for patient safety and other necessary upgrades at Western and Eastern State Hospitals;
- $33.7 million to plan and design a behavioral health teaching hospital run by the University of Washington; and
- $30 million from the Housing Trust Fund for supportive housing for the chronically mentally ill.
As we all know, nearly every Washington family has been touched in some way by mental and behavioral health challenges. These critical investments would go a long way in offering hope and improving lives. I'm grateful for the leadership of Rep. Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds) and many other legislators on both sides of the aisle who are committed to building a stronger and more effective community safety net.
Encouraged by our young people serving here at the Capitol
One of the things that brings me joy every session is meeting the wonderful young people who serve as pages here in the state House. I recently had the opportunity to sponsor local home school student Ben Schuster as a page, and could not have been more impressed. Ben is smart and creative, as well as kind and hard-working. I know he's going to make a positive difference wherever his path in life leads. Thank you for your service to the Legislature, Ben!
Radio interview on KSER
Nearly every week this session, I've had the opportunity to join KSER's Ed Bremer for a 15-minute interview to discuss the latest from Olympia. In our conversation last week, we discussed proposed Republican amendments to the 2019-21 House operating budget proposal, the bidding process for building new state ferries, the status of my data privacy legislation, and solar panel recycling. You can click on the image below to listen:
Please continue contacting me with your comments, questions or concerns. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and my phone number is (360) 786-7884.
It is an honor to serve you.