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Legislature passes supplemental budget

The Legislature has approved a supplemental budget that pays for costs associated with last summer’s wildfires and increases spending at the state’s psychiatric hospitals.

The supplemental budget passed out of the House with a vote of 78-17 early Tuesday afternoon, the 20th day of the 30-day special session. The Senate gave final approval to the budget Tuesday evening, 27-17.

The supplemental budget increases by $191 million the state’s current two-year $38.2 billion budget adopted last year. It includes $7 million to retain more teachers, $15 million for youth homelessness and $28 million to improve safety at Western State Hospital and other psychiatric hospitals. Read the full details here.

To cover costs from last year’s devastating fire season, the budget uses $190 million in emergency “rainy day” funds.

House Democrats hold a press conference Tuesday.

House Democratic leaders told reporters Tuesday they did not get all they hoped in the supplemental budget — especially when it comes to the teacher shortage — but it represents a compromise.

Democrats had originally sought $38 million in rainy day funds to pay for homeless programs. That was dropped in the compromise budget, which instead focuses narrowly on youth homelessness and programs that pair schools with housing groups.

“When kids have a stable house and stay in that community, they really do a lot better in schools,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, the lead Democratic budget writer. “I think we did pretty well and we advanced the cause as much as we could in a limited year like this.”

Initially, Democrats proposed fixing the state’s teacher shortage by raising beginning teacher salaries from $35,000 a year to $40,000, paid for by eliminating six tax breaks. The final agreement does not give teachers pay raises, but it does include funding for a mentoring program that aims to keep teachers in the classroom longer. It also creates a task force to look at teacher compensation in the coming year.

“The shortage will grow, so the issue is stemming that. We made some initial progress this year, recognizing that we’ll have to come in next year and do more,” said Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said the budget “stuck to a true supplemental budget formula” by not raising taxes through the elimination of tax breaks or funding pay raises for teachers.

Schoesler said Republicans compromised on the budget by spending more overall than the $49 million that Republicans had initially proposed.

“We spent over six months last year passing a budget that was very good, got wide bipartisan support. We felt like we didn’t need to change things, so adding additional spending was an issue for us,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia.

On the House floor, several members in both parties praised the budget for taking incremental steps toward addressing the state’s teacher shortage and preparing the state for next year’s big budget challenges in fully funding McCleary obligations.

“It addressed a lot of surprises we saw this year and I think it’s a responsible and very thoughtful approach to setting ourselves up for success in the next biennial cycle,” said Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah.

Opponents of the budget say it will negatively impact some local communities and governments. Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, criticized the the budget for “short-changing” community mental health programs.

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, also voted no on the budget because it takes money from the Public Works Assistance Account, which local governments use to pay for public works projects. As a former city councilwoman, she said she knows the value of the public works fund.

“Probably the most distressing part about that is that this is a sign of what’s going to happen over the next several biennium,” Pike said. “We’re going to continue to sweep those revenues.”

The Legislature adjourned Sine Die just before 11 p.m. Tuesday evening following passage of bills related to the budget. Members in both chambers also voted to override 27 vetoes by Gov. Jay Inslee. The governor had vetoed the bills at the end of the regular 60-day session as a way to spur lawmakers to come to a budget agreement faster.

Inslee held a late evening press conference Tuesday where he said he was supportive of the veto overrides now that the Legislature had completed its work. “We got the budget done,” Inslee said. “These bills passed, that’s fine with me.”

The governor warned that “heavy lifting awaits us next January” when lawmakers will come back to negotiate a new two-year operating budget, while also meeting the Washington Supreme Court mandate to fully fund basic education. 

Inslee said the bipartisan task force dedicated to school funding “needs to take its work very seriously so we can be assured we have all the information we need to tackle the tough decisions on Day 1 of the 2017 session.”

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