OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled a new supplemental state budget Thursday that puts billions of dollars in new spending into pandemic response, homelessness, climate change, transportation projects, state employee raises and other items.
Inslee’s $61.8 billion supplemental proposal expands upon the roughly $59 billion two-year spending plan approved by lawmakers and the governor this spring.
The 2022 spending plan proposes neither any new taxes nor any tax cuts. But it adds billions in new spending from stronger-than-expected tax collections, remaining federal COVID-19 relief dollars and savings found in the current budget.
In a news conference, Inslee cited a variety of challenges — from Washington’s acute homelessness and housing-shortage problem, to students struggling to learn amid COVID and various infrastructure needs — as justification for an unusually large supplemental spending plan.
“We simply have to recognize this: Our state is faced with multiple crises, and we have to respond to these this next year,” Inslee said. “Timidity will not cut it; we need urgent action.”
Republican lawmakers — who are in the minority in the state House and Senate — quickly blasted Inslee’s ambitions.
“At a time when the state is overwhelmed with cash, it is disappointing, though not surprising, to see that the governor’s budget proposal does not include any tax relief for the families who have struggled through the pandemic and who are now experiencing the highest rate of inflation since 1982,” Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, said in a statement.
“Instead, the governor wants to spend our entire surplus on growing state government even more,” Stokesbary added.
Inslee is proposing to spend more than $270 million for the state Department of Health to continue its COVID-19 response, including expanding access to vaccines.
The governor also wants to spend $384 million on state worker raises, which for most employees will amount to a 3.25% hike. That comes after the budget approved earlier this year excluded new raises amid the economic uncertainty of the pandemic.
On climate issues, the governor has proposed, among other things, spending $100 million per year to pay for rebates for people buying electric vehicles and $100 million to expand the use of solar energy. Inslee has also proposed spending $187 million to protect salmon.
School enrollment declined during the pandemic, which reduced anticipated state spending on K-12 students. The governor’s budget takes that spending reduction and puts it back into education funding.
That includes nearly $750 million to address educational gaps among students and $184 million to hire nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers at grade schools.
Inslee’s plan also puts more than $370 million into Washington’s ferry system to fund construction of new boats and to retain employees amid a workforce shortage that has forced cancellations of sailings.
The Washington Department of Transportation recently hired 47 new ferry workers, Inslee said, and is processing 20 more new hires to help with the shortfall.
The governor is also proposing a $125 million community grant program to help communities struggling with chronic inequities and disparities inflicted by the legal system and the war on drugs. The funds could be used as loans and grants to businesses and first-time home buyers, Inslee said.
Also included in the spending plan is more than $240 million in state and federal funds to boost an array of programs to help 1.7 million state residents struggling with poverty, Inslee said.
On homelessness, the governor would spend hundreds of millions to, among other things, buy existing property and buildings around Washington to convert to homeless shelters and housing. Inslee has estimated that such a move could add about 2,460 new housing units.
The governor’s budget plan also puts $600 million into the state’s budget reserves, on top of the $574 million already set to be deposited per statute into that rainy day fund.
“So the next four years, the state’s reserves under my budget will return to pre-pandemic levels,” he said.
Inslee’s proposal comes as state tax collections came roaring back over the past year, after dire early projections at the outset of the pandemic.
It also spends more than $1 billion in federal COVID aid that lawmakers had held in reserve.
Roughly half of that federal money will be transferred to the state’s transportation budget to keep a handful of big highway projects on schedule, according to David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management.
Washington’s operating budget funds everything from schools, parks and prisons to social service programs and the state’s mental health system.
Lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate will release their own budget proposals after the 60-day legislative session gets underway next month.
In a statement, Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, and chief House Democratic budget writer, praised Inslee’s plan saying “we appreciate his proposals for ensuring public health is funded and struggling families have access to housing, food, and heating programs that keep them from homelessness.”
GOP lawmakers have called instead for tax relief, especially as prices for gas and other goods have increased due to inflation.
In light of strong budget numbers, Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, in a newsletter late last month called on lawmakers to cut property taxes.
“There are different ways to do this, including my House Bill 1358, but I welcome other ideas on how to provide that much needed property tax relief,” wrote Orcutt, the ranking Republican on the House Finance Committee, which deals with tax policy.