Senator Brad Hawkins comments on state budget


Senator Brad Hawkins

 

Dear 12th District Friends and Neighbors, 

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your 12th District state senator. I am pleased to share that on Friday afternoon, the Legislature approved a new two-year operating budget in time for it to be signed by the governor and take effect today, when the state’s new fiscal cycle began. The $43.7 billion budget for 2017-19 was the result of weeks and months of hard work to address critical funding for K-12 education, higher education, health and human services, natural resources, state parks, public safety, and other key state services.

Doing big things is not easy 

As I shared with some of my colleagues Thursday, “Doing big things is not easy.” This is very true in the Legislature where members often have deep philosophical differences about public policy. When this happens, the citizens of Washington are best served when the different sides can come together, even if it takes longer, and reach strong, bipartisan compromises. 

I believe the 2017-19 operating budget approved Friday, which likely provides closure to the landmark 2012 state Supreme Court decision on education (the McCleary case) and makes critical investments in other areas of state government, represents a bold step forward for our state. The budget bill, Senate Bill 5883, was approved by the House by a vote of 70 to 23 and in the Senate by a vote of 39 to 10. That is solid bipartisan support. I voted “yes.” 

Importantly, the final budget agreement avoids a new state income tax, additional business taxes, and the capital gains tax increases sought by many legislators. It utilizes additional revenue generated through state economic growth, adjusts processes for collecting taxes on online purchases from out-of-state retailers, and removes some tax exemptions. The budget also responsibly reserves over $2 billion as an ending fund balance to protect taxpayers in future years.

Meeting our paramount duty 

The new operating budget increases K-12 education funding by $3.8 billion over the next two years, which includes more funding for career and technical education, gifted education, special education, and staff compensation. The state’s K-12 investments now comprise 50% of spending. 

The final budget also sets in place an historic levy reform plan that increases the state portion of the common-schools property tax while correspondingly reducing and capping local levy rates. The end result will provide additional funding to our schools and a more reliable and equitable educational funding system for students regardless of their location. 

Additional budget highlights 

While much of the focus for this budget was on K-12 spending and reform, enhancements were made in other areas:

Preserves funding for higher education 

Funds state employee compensation agreements 

Reduces manufacturing B&O tax rates 

Adds slots for early learning 

Extends renewable energy incentive program

 

Offers more support for people with mental illness 

Promotes improvements in the foster care system 

Directs new resources toward seniors and unpaid family caregivers 

Forest health bill funded 

On a personal level, I was very pleased that the new law to establish a long-term forest health treatment assessment, created by my Senate Bill 5546, was fully funded in the budget at approximately $1 million for the biennium. I am very grateful to the Department of Natural Resources, Nature Conservancy, North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative, and the Wenatchee-based Wildfire Project who assisted me in my efforts. 

I have been particularly inspired by The Wildfire Project and strongly believe their presentations and community conversations are influencing public policy in our state. Educational outreach and greater awareness about wildfire can help us reduce our risk of megafires in the future and ultimately save our state millions of dollars in emergency response, fire-suppression costs, infrastructure loss, and economic damages. I am thankful that my colleagues agreed with my request to provide $100,000 in funding to this group in 2017-19, through the state Department of Commerce, for a continuation of their public education efforts on wildfire and forest health issues statewide.

Capital budget remains 

The Legislature has now approved two of the three budgets for the next biennium. With the operating and transportation budgets in place, the remaining spending plan needed is the capital budget, which funds public construction projects, land acquisitions and other capital-related investments. Negotiations over this plan continued into the early morning today and could be completed soon.

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