OLYMPIA – In his six years as governor, Jay Inslee has watched lawmakers block his climate-change legislation, ignore wide swaths of his proposed budgets and plunge a divided Legislature repeatedly into standoffs over taxes and spending that threatened to shutter state government.
But as the Legislature adjourned Sunday night at the end of its 105-day session, Inslee had reason to be happy.
This year’s strong Democratic majorities in the House and Senate helped deliver much of his clean-energy legislation, along with a bill that creates a public option for the state health-insurance exchange. And in the closing hours, they unexpectedly pushed through Initiative 1000, a measure championed by Inslee, to repeal Washington’s ban on affirmative action.
They cut a last-minute deal to raise the caps on how much money school districts could raise through local property taxes.
The state’s new 2019-21 state operating budget — which passed the Legislature less than an hour before lawmakers finished for the year — included many of Inslee’s priorities on higher-education spending and a plan to rebuild the state’s mental-health system.
Summing up those developments in a news conference after lawmakers finished, Inslee said: “This 2019 legislative session delivered the mail.”
Earlier in the day, when asked about the final days of the session, which included a last-minute release of the budget and late-night votes on tax bills, Inslee brushed those concerns aside.
“No, this has been a session of unprecedented success, with an extraordinary number of big steps forward for the state of Washington,” he said Sunday afternoon, shortly after finishing a TV interview under the dome of the Capitol building. “I could not be more pleased.”
“Sometimes the Legislature will do one big thing, or sometimes they’ll do little things on many things,” added Inslee. “This year they did big things on so many different things that affect our families’ health and well-being.”
For the governor, who is running for president with a nearly singular focus on global warming, the climate-change victories were perhaps the most striking.
The Legislature passed a series of bills sought by Inslee and Democratic lawmakers that amount to an expansive climate-change package. Those bills phase out the use of fossil fuels in power generation, cut hydrofluorocarbons, implement new energy standards for large buildings and create efficiency standards for some appliances.
He didn’t get everything. Inslee and Democratic allies couldn’t find the votes in the Senate for a long-championed tax on capital gains. The governor saw his clean-fuels proposal — one of the biggest climate bills he sought — stall under opposition in the Senate.
Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders this year took a pass on voting to repeal the death penalty.
A Democratic bill to require comprehensive sex education in schools also stalled in that chamber.
Lawmakers worked late into the night Sunday to pass a deal that would lift the caps on how much money school districts can raise through local tax-levies. Calls for that legislation came as school districts around the state have struggled under the Legislature’s 2017 court-ordered K-12 school funding plan.
The plan boosted the state portion of money to fund basic education services, but lowered and capped the amount of money districts could bring in through local property-tax levies.
Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan of Covington had warned that lawmakers may need to go past midnight or hold a short special session to secure a compromise on the levy-tax policy.
But a deal came through for levy proposal that also involved passing a bill sought by Republicans, Senate Bill 6025, to keep confidential the personal information of the people who sold their rifle bump stocks to the state as part of a buyback program.
House and Senate lawmakers, meanwhile, brought to the floor and passed Initiative 1000. I-1000 reverses Initiative 200, a measure approved by Washington voters 20 years ago that barred the government from giving preferential treatment to or discriminating against people and groups based on their color, race, sex, national origin or ethnicity.
If lawmakers hadn’t passed the measure, I-1000 would have gone to the November election ballot.
For Republicans, who found themselves solidly in the minority for the first time in years, Sunday presented a final and probably futile moment to speak out against a new tax package that tops out at more than $830 million.
That package funds the new two-year state operating budget, along with a new, separate spending account for higher education needs.
With a booming state economy and healthy revenues, legislators were expected to have almost $50.6 billion for the new operating budget without raising any taxes. But Democrats argued more was needed to fund K-12 education, mental-health programs and other priorities.
“That’s what it’s all about here in Olympia this year, raising taxes on the people of Washington state,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, as he spoke Sunday against one of those tax bills, House Bill 2167, in a floor speech.
An expansive document, the new $52.4 billion 2019-21 state operating budget funds schools, prisons, parks, natural resources and social service programs.
The new two-year budget deal provides $280.5 million for a plan to shore up and transform the state’s struggling mental-health system.
More mental-health dollars are provided in a two-year capital-construction budget.
It sets aside $45.5 million for the Department of Natural Resources and other agencies to fight wildfires and provide forest-health projects, and funds new collective bargaining agreements with raises for state workers.
The budget funds $35.2 million to increase rates for providers of facilities who care for high-needs foster kids. That funding should help bring home Washington foster youth who have been sent to placements as far away as Iowa, New Jersey and South Carolina.
It includes $3.9 billion needed to keep paying for the Legislature’s 2017 court-ordered K-12 school-funding plan. It also provides $155 million for special education programs.
The agreement also has $34.8 million to expand the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, and $10.3 million ease Washington’s backlog of sexual assault kits.
As the House and Senate lawmakers debated bills on the floor, some cheered freshly cemented victories.
After the new, two-year state transportation budget cleared its final hurdle Sunday, Sen. Reuven Carlyle touted the $700,000 in it to install digital speed-limit signs on Seattle’s Aurora bridge.
The signs would hopefully help regulate traffic at a place known for bad accidents.
“My number one goal is to slow down the traffic,” said Carlyle, a Democrat from Seattle.
This legislative session has given Inslee an additional luxury: His staff will be able to review the budget thoroughly before he signs it.
Inslee signed the last two-year budgets in 2015 and 2017 after 11 p.m. on June 30, just minutes before the July 1 start of the state’s fiscal year and a state government shutdown. Since an immediate budget isn’t needed to keep the government open, the governor’s office is likely to take its time before authorizing the new spending blueprint.