‘One Washington’ budget wins strong legislative support

2017-19 plan benefits students, vulnerable adults, children, taxpayers, employers

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers Friday adopted a 2017-19 state operating budget that culminates years of work by the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus to fully fund public schools. The $43.7 billion compromise received strongly bipartisan votes of 39-10 in the Senate and 70-23 in the House of Representatives.

The bill was signed into law at 11:15 p.m. by Gov. Jay Inslee, 45 minutes before the start of the new fiscal year, averting interruption to state services.

“This is my 27th year in the state Legislature, and I can say this is one of the best budgets we have ever crafted,” said state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch. “We faced a major challenge this year, meeting the state Supreme Court’s demand that we fully fund basic education, and we faced considerable pressure for massive tax increases. It took us until the final day and the final hour to finish the job in a responsible way. The final result was worth it for the people of the 35th District.”

The new spending plan protects the state’s social-safety net and makes major investments in services for people with mental illness. It promotes improvements in the foster-care system and offers new support for seniors and those who care for them. There are gains in health care and public safety, and $50 million to extend state need grants for college-bound students.

K-12 is clearly at the center. With $3.8 billion in new spending on public schools, the new budget continues the steep climb in education investments seen since 2013, when control of the Senate shifted to the bipartisan Majority Coalition Caucus.

It’s the first two-year budget since 1983, when Republican John Spellman was Washington’s governor, to devote more than 50 percent of spending to basic education. It also supports major student-centered education-funding reforms the Senate proposed five months ago.

Those reforms will reestablish state government as the primary provider for public schools, in line with the state constitution and the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling. Combined with the budget, they offer more funding to each of Washington’s 295 school districts while also enabling tax relief for nearly three-fourths of the state’s property owners.

“Although the state property tax for schools will rise, this increase will be more than offset by reductions in local school levies,” Sheldon said.

Budget writers had nearly $3 billion more to allocate in the new budget than they did two years ago, due to natural revenue growth stemming from stable tax rates and a stronger economy. That allowed the Senate majority to defeat new taxes that have been high on the agendas of the governor and Democratic leaders in the House — a capital-gains income tax, a 20-percent jump in taxes on most employers, a carbon tax and a change in real-estate taxes.

Instead, the final deal offers a 40 percent reduction in business and occupations taxes paid by non-aerospace manufacturers, and new tax incentives designed in part to support economic growth in rural communities. Sheldon opposed one major tax change imposed by the budget agreement – extension of the state sales tax to Internet sales.

The budget covers the cost of new state-employee collective-bargaining agreements, which provide three pay raises over two years. Senate-majority concerns about transparency and legislative oversight resulted in policy changes that will allow for more review and consultation the next time new contracts are negotiated.