Economic growth adds money to state coffers, and Democratic lawmakers have uses for it | 2020 Legislative Session

OLYMPIA – Democratic caucuses in the house and senate rolled out separate spending plans that include hundreds of millions of dollars to address climate change, homelessness, and behavioral health.

Without imposing new taxes, the proposed expenditures unveiled on Monday, Feb. 24, would add $1.5 billion to the existing budget. Lawmakers credit increased revenues the state has enjoyed to strong economic growth, but $318 million of the money comes from one-time sources. The budget proposed by Senate Democrats is a 2.2% increase in spending, bringing the $52.4 billion biennium operating budget approved last year to $53.6 billion.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, released a statement criticizing the budgets proposed by Democrats for increasing spending and not providing tax relief despite being $1.5 billion ahead of revenue predictions.

“Republicans are listening to the people, and the people want some of their money back,” Braun argued. “All this taxing and spending makes you wonder who the Democrats are listening to.”

The Senate Democrats’ supplemental budget proposal outlines a $115 million allocation to help reduce homelessness, that includes $66 million to help increase homeless shelter capacity.

Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said additional funds to develop and support affordable housing would make further significant changes by next fall.

The House Democrats proposed a $253 million total allotment toward fighting homelessness, including $100 million for the Housing Trust Fund to be used for capital projects addressing housing affordability and homelessness.

The $253 million also includes a $75 million for supportive housing, which Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, said the funds would be used quickly to support the operations, maintenance and services for housing created for needy and at-risk tenants.

The Senate Democrats’ proposal also sets aside $100 million to mitigate the impact of climate change and strengthen the resilience of communities and the natural environment.

Rolfes said the climate resilience funds could go toward forest health and management as well as projects to protect endangered species and mitigate the impacts of invasive species.

The senate and house Democratic caucuses both proposed allocations over $20 million toward the state Department of Natural Resources for the resources needed to respond and suppress wildfires.

Both Democratic caucuses also allocated funds toward behavioral and mental health programs and facilities such as operations funding for Eastern and Western state hospitals. However, the senate proposed more than $100 million toward the construction of the University of Washington Behavioral Health Hospital.

Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said he is confident the budget will be bipartisanly accepted.

“We tried to meet the needs of both urban and rural communities.” Frockt said.

Cameron Sheppard is a reporter with the WNPA News Service.

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