Senate budget boosts education, sets priorities

The following newsletter was sent to subscribers to Sen. Walsh’s Report from Olympia March 24, 2017. To subscribe to Sen. Walsh’s newsletter, click here.

On the Senate floor, March 8, 2017.

Dear friends and neighbors,

In many ways, writing a state budget is like writing a family’s household budget. The process involves evaluating resources and prioritizing expenditures by need.

The Senate did exactly that as it crafted its $43 billion proposal for 2017-19 and passed it Thursday night. While this budget is a good starting point, the details will change throughout session. The Senate recognizes that tough choices need to be made as the Legislature addresses the state Supreme Court’s demand that the state fully fund basic education.

With funding shortfalls in policy areas including education and mental health, both parties will need to make compromises in order to fund the services that are most critical in our state. Due to economic growth, we expect nearly $3 billion more in revenue – without raising taxes. Yet we face pressure to dramatically increase revenue. A spending proposal from the governor would require the largest tax increase in state history, including a carbon tax, an increase in business and occupations taxes, and an income tax on capital gains. These proposed new taxes would total $8.7 billion when fully implemented. The House will soon make a proposal of its own, and this debate over taxes and spending will dominate discussion during the four weeks that remain of our session.

You can read more about the Senate’s proposal here.

Setting priorities in the Senate

Here’s where we put our priorities in the Senate budget proposal:

  • We put children first, boosting K-12 funding by $3.7 billion, raising public schools’ share of the budget to more than 50 percent, the highest level since 1983. We fully fund basic education, and per-student funding and starting teacher pay would be significantly increased.
  • We create a fair school financing system that does not shortchange rural and Eastern Washington students. Everyone would pay the same property tax rate for basic education, and the wealthiest districts would no longer enjoy the disproportionately low levy rates. Some 83 percent of the state’s population would see a tax reduction.
  • We protect the most vulnerable, making critical investments in the social safety net for mental health treatment, senior citizens, foster children and people with developmental disabilities.
  • We target high-priority criminal justice issues, with longer sentences for repeat DUIs, property crime, domestic violence, sex crimes against children, and crimes against vulnerable adults. We enact important management reforms at the state Department of Corrections.

Our budget implements collectively-bargained pay raises for state troopers and prison workers to improve retention rates, and for others we propose modest adjustments. We will not only avoid tax increases this year, but ensure our spending is sustainable and will not force tax increases in the future.

No budget proposal is ever written in stone when first introduced, which means there will be compromise and modification before we are finished. By getting our priorities in line, we can ensure our decisions are responsible ones.

Relief for Washington taxpayers

An important byproduct of our levy reform proposal is property tax relief for most Washington taxpayers. The Senate budget encompasses the K-12 education plan we adopted in February, which would increase per-student funding while equalizing property tax rates statewide. One important detail has changed, however. Last week, a new revenue forecast projected an additional half-billion dollars. We have used some of that money to reduce our proposed state property-tax levy from $1.80 to $1.55 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Most taxpayers in the 16th District will see additional tax reductions. Here’s how our school districts would be affected by the fully implemented program in 2018-19.

  • College Place School District, current tax rate $3.26, savings for average homeowner $331.
  • Columbia School District, tax rate $3.28, average savings $312.
  • Dayton School District, tax rate $1.74, average savings $18.
  • Dixie School District, tax rate $2.62, average savings $117.
  • Finley School District, tax rate $3.85, average savings $267.
  • Grandview School District, tax rate $1.84, average savings $30.
  • Kennewick School District, tax rate $3.44, average savings $306.
  • Kiona-Benton City School District, tax rate $4.23, average savings $288.
  • Pasco School District, tax rate $4.32, average savings $426.
  • Paterson School District, tax rate $0.43, average increase $59.
  • Pomeroy School District, tax rate $1.67, average savings $9.
  • Prescott School District, tax rate $1.86, average savings $49.
  • Prosser School District, tax rate $3.01, average savings $188.
  • Richland School District, tax rate $3.31, average savings $327.
  • Starbuck School District, tax rate $0, average increase $37.
  • Touchet School District, tax rate $3.25, average savings $259.
  • Waitsburg School District, tax rate $3.37, average savings $223.
  • Walla Walla School District, tax rate $3.66, average savings $384.

Meeting March 15 with members of the WEE CARE Coaltion, an advocacy organization for infants and toddlers with disabilities.

If you have questions about bills being considered by the Legislature, or general questions about state government, I encourage you to get in touch with me. You can do so using the contact information below.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Maureen Walsh