OLYMPIA — Washington’s Democratic legislators Monday released new proposed supplemental budgets with strong increases in state spending, putting to use state tax collections that have repeatedly come in above expectations.
The supplemental budget proposals make changes to Washington’s two-year, $59 billion state operating budget approved last spring, which funds everything from schools, prisons, parks and public lands to economic assistance, mental health services and other social supports.
The new spending blueprints reflect the torrent of dollars coming in through higher-than-expected tax collections since dire economic projections in early 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. That trend continued last week, when a state budget forecast projected $2.7 billion in higher-than-expected tax revenue through mid-2025.
On Monday morning, Senate Democrats released a proposed supplemental budget that includes nearly $6 billion in new spending.
A third of that new spending, or $2 billion, would be transferred to other accounts to be used for transportation spending, as Democrats confront shortfalls there and also consider a new infrastructure package.
The Senate’s proposed supplemental budget increases overall spending to $63.7 billion for the 2021-23 budget cycle. The spending plan includes no general tax increases.
The Senate Democratic budget increases spending in a number of areas, including $100 million to help the recovery of salmon and $172 million to boost the number of school nurses, psychologists, social workers and guidance counselors.
It would shore up the state-paid family leave program, which faces questions over its long-term solvency, with an infusion of $350 million.
The budget also allocates $400 million for an account to retrofit schools to better withstand earthquakes.
Another $700 million — a mix of state and federal dollars — would be put toward relieving homelessness and expanding affordable housing.
“The budget is addressing the issues that people are concerned about,” Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said in a news conference.
In a statement Monday, Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, criticized the proposal for not including broad tax relief. Republicans, who are in the minority in the Legislature, have repeatedly urged tax cuts to help residents deal with inflation.
“How can they possibly justify this to people who are finding it unaffordable to live in our state, between the rising prices for gas, food, housing, and electricity, the economic struggles brought on by the pandemic, and all the new taxes and fees they have adopted — and are pursuing again this session, with no end in sight?” Wilson asked in prepared remarks.
On Monday afternoon, House Democrats released their own proposed supplemental budget, which increases spending in the two-year budget cycle to $65 billion.
Like the senate’s proposal, the House budget would transfer $2 billion to be used for transportation projects. Similarly, it directs $397 million to shore up the paid family leave program and $108 million for school nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers.
The House plan includes $300 million to fund legislation creating a low-interest student loan program. It would spend another $150 million to provide help for people’s utility bills and another $55 million for rental assistance in an effort to keep tenants from being evicted.
Both the House and Senate budgets proposed Monday fund pay raises for state employees. And they both provide dollars for staff and services aimed at moving people who are camping on rights of way, such as around highways, into permanent housing.
In December, Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled his proposed supplemental budget, which included an array of spending on transportation, housing, salmon recovery and other priorities.
Democrats will negotiate a final supplemental budget agreement behind closed doors in the remaining weeks of the legislative session, which is scheduled to end March 10.
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