Washington Governor Jay Inslee proposes $ 61.8 billion budget focused on COVID, climate change and homelessness

OLYMPIA – Spurred on by federal tax and relief collections, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday unveiled a new state supplementary budget that spends billions of dollars in new spending to respond to the pandemic, homelessness , climate change, transportation projects, government employees and more. .

Inslee’s additional $ 61.8 billion proposal for 2022 builds on the roughly $ 59 billion two-year spending plan approved by lawmakers and the governor this spring. The new spending plan does not propose new taxes or tax cuts.

Democratic-controlled House and Senate lawmakers will release their own budget proposals after the 60-day legislative session begins next month.

Washington’s operating budget funds everything from schools, parks, and prisons to social service programs and the state’s mental health system.

Inslee proposes to spend more than $ 270 million for the state’s Department of Health to continue its response to COVID-19, including expanding access to vaccines.

The governor also wants to spend $ 384 million to grant increases to state employees, which for most employees will equate to a 3.25% increase. It comes after the budget approved earlier this year ruled out further increases amid the economic uncertainty of the pandemic.

On climate issues, the governor has proposed, among other things, spending $ 100 million a year to pay discounts for people buying electric vehicles and $ 100 million to expand the use of solar energy.

Kindergarten to Grade 12 enrollment declined during the pandemic, reducing anticipated state spending on students. The governor’s budget takes this spending cut and puts it back into education funding.

This includes nearly $ 750 million to close the education gap between students and $ 184 million to hire school nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers in elementary schools.

Inslee’s plan also invests more than $ 370 million in the Washington ferry system to fund the construction of new boats and retain employees amid a labor shortage that forced the cancellation of departures.

Inslee’s proposal comes as state tax collections have returned to the upside over the past year, after dire early projections at the start of the pandemic.

It is also spending around $ 1 billion on federal COVID aid that lawmakers had kept in reserve.

About half of that federal money will be transferred to the state transportation budget to keep a handful of major highway projects on schedule, according to David Schumacher, director of the Bureau of Financial Management.

Republicans, a minority in the House and Senate, will certainly be disappointed with the new spending plan.

GOP lawmakers have called for tax relief, especially as the prices of gas and other goods have risen due to inflation.

In light of the strong budget figures, Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, in a newsletter late last month, called on lawmakers to cut property taxes.

“There are different ways of doing this, including my Bill 1358, but I welcome other ideas on how to provide that much needed property tax relief, ”wrote Orcutt, the leading Republican on the House Finance Committee, which deals with politics fiscal.

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