OLYMPIA — Washington House and Senate Democratic lawmakers Wednesday announced a supplemental state operating budget deal that boosts funding for a host of homelessness, child care and other programs.
But the deal comes as lawmakers show increasing concern about the economic implications of the coronavirus outbreak, as well as what the state will need to do to curb it.
The budget deal includes using $100 million from reserve accounts for the response to the outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. But lawmakers acknowledge that number is a rough guess at what might be needed.
“Our hope is that we won’t have to come back for a special session, but obviously we have to be flexible, we can’t predict the future,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.
The coronavirus outbreak has escalated quickly since House and Senate Democrats released their supplemental budget proposals on Feb. 24. The supplemental budget makes tweaks to the current 2019-21 state operating budget.
An economic downturn, in turn, could hurt that budget, which funds schools, parks, prisons and public health and social-service programs.
In response to the uncertainty, Wednesday’s agreement spends less than the original proposals. And it keeps more money in budget reserve accounts than originally planned.
The agreement adds about $1 billion to the current budget, making it $53.5 billion for the two-year cycle. The deal — and the coronavirus response bill — must still pass the Legislature by the end of Thursday, the last scheduled day of the legislative session.
The budget deal includes $160 million to address homelessness and housing affordability. Of that, $60 million will go toward grants to local governments to fund shelters. An additional $55 million would be added to the Housing Trust Fund, which supports the maintenance or building of affordable-housing units.
The deal also includes $32.5 million to boost the Working Connections Child Care subsidy program and $50 million for state agencies to use on projects that would minimize the effects of climate change. It funds $31.8 million to provide school counselors for high-poverty elementary schools.
It spends $9 million to create a new, centralized gun-purchase background check system through the Washington State Patrol.
In a statement, Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, said he was pleased Democrats didn’t spend as much as they originally planned.
But in prepared remarks, Stokesbary said he remains “concerned the budget has not been pulled back enough.”
“It relies on a revenue forecast that does not account for the global economic shocks likely to occur if the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt supply chains and consumer demand,” he added.
The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus crisis a pandemic Wednesday.
Washington lawmakers began drafting the budget while they were flush with cash. Larger-than-expected tax collections gave them approximately $1.5 billion in extra dollars for the current budget cycle.
But now lawmakers and economists must try to predict what the coronavirus outbreak will do for Washington’s economy in the coming months and year.
The travel industry sticks out as one area where business is expected to temporarily drop off, said Stephen Lerch, executive director of the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.
While it’s too early to know the effect on state revenues, he said, “Things certainly look less optimistic than they did a month ago.”