This morning, the state Supreme Court unanimously struck down Tim Eyman’s latest attempt to restrict the legislature’s ability to eliminate wasteful tax breaks and enact new revenue for public priorities like education, infrastructure, and health care. Initiative 1366, another in a series of Eyman’s unconstitutional supermajority proposals, would have allowed a handful of lawmakers to stand in the way of attempts to raise revenue for these and other state investments. Supermajority laws require a two-thirds vote of the legislature to enact any tax increase, essentially granting veto power to just 17 senators out of 147 state legislators.
As we’ve described in the past, I-1366 would have been disastrous for Washington. It would have essentially blackmailed the legislature into restricting its own ability to enact new state revenue, or else lose $1.4 billion a year from the state budget for important services like higher education, safe communities, and health care. This, in the face of an historic mandate from the state Supreme Court to fully fund basic education for our kids and grandkids, which will require billions of additional dollars for schools each year.
In order to fund state priorities that build strong communities, like parks and libraries, safe roads, and schools that we can depend upon to educate the next generation of Washington’s leaders, the legislature must be able to do its job. That includes raising revenue equitably and sustainability – and by decision of the entire legislative body, not just a handful of influential lawmakers.
As the Court stated in its opinion: “[If I-1366 were allowed to stand, t]he new norm would be for the initiative sponsors to pair one drastic or undesirable measure with an ultimatum that it go into effect unless a specific constitutional amendment is proposed to the people.”
In 2005, a visionary group of public policy experts, community leaders, and social justice advocates joined forces to create an organization that would ensure that Washington state invests in the priorities that create a more just and prosperous state. Priorities like schools and health care, economic security and jobs.
A year later, the Washington State Budget & Policy Center was officially open for business. The organization’s goal: to advance the well-being of Washington communities and improve the economic and social opportunity of all in the state – with a particular focus on people struggling to get by.
Today, all of us at the Budget & Policy Center are proud to be celebrating 10 years of fulfilling that goal.
We have spent the past decade conducting the rock-solid research and analysis it takes to develop common-sense policy solutions. We’ve put our findings into the hands of legislators, decision makers, and grassroots advocates who mobilize for change. In so doing, we’ve worked in a bipartisan way to help shape the public debate and build diverse coalitions – all to help Washington be a state where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
Throughout this time, the Budget & Policy Center has become the go-to source for comprehensive budget analysis and policy solutions that respond to crucial issues in Olympia and across our state. The result has been many significant policy wins that keep Washingtonians moving forward – from enacting the Working Families Tax Rebate to eliminating wasteful corporate tax breaks, expanding Medicaid healthcare coverage to passing legislation that supports early childhood education. (Click on the graphic for many more details.)
Click on the image to see the full two-page PDF.
That isn’t to say that we haven’t faced challenges. A historic recession that set our economy and workers back, cuts to public investments that put many people at risk of falling behind, and repeated ballot initiative attempts to help powerful interests at the expense of the common good, to name a few. And there’s plenty left to do – especially turning around the most upside-down tax structure in the nation, where people with the lowest incomes pay seven times the rate in state and local taxes than the wealthiest 1 percent.
At the Budget & Policy Center, we will remain a key player defending our state against these challenges. We have been, and will remain, focused on the long game. We share a vision of Washington as a state where all children go to great schools; workers earn what they need to build a secure future; the environment is healthy; and all communities can thrive. A state where people from all races, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and zip codes have equal opportunity for prosperity. Where the tax code isn’t set up to favor the powerful few.
Speaking of that long game, we’d like to show you what a difference 10 years has made. We invite you to click here or on the graphic above for a sampling of the work the Budget & Policy Center has done and the policies we’ve helped shape in our first decade. These successes are the result of the passion and commitment of our hardworking staff and board. They are a testament to the support of so many policymakers, community leaders, partner organizations, students, activists, and others we’ve worked with over the years – as well as the many generous individuals and foundations that believe in our work and invest their dollars in us. Together we are a powerful community of change-makers.
And we are just getting started. We will continue to provide the data, develop the strong messaging, and build the grassroots partnerships needed to make sure everyone in this Evergreen State can reach their full potential. We look forward to the next 10 years and beyond.
The legislature’s annual report on its progress toward meeting the state Supreme Court-mandated McCleary school-funding requirements shows that lawmakers have a lot more work to do.
The report, filed this week, makes clear that there is not enough revenue to provide Washington’s children with the high-quality K-12 schools the state constitution requires.
The committee that published the report, which has been issuing such progress reports to the Supreme Court each year since 2012, has identified five major areas where additional state funding is needed. According to the committee, three out of five areas have already been fully funded since the McCleary decision was handed down in 2012: materials, supplies, and operating costs (often referred to as MSOC), full-day kindergarten, and student transportation. Unfortunately, however, much of this was accomplished by using unsustainable revenue sources such as the overburdened sales tax, cutting funds from other important priorities that serve Washington’s communities, and using one-time accounting gimmicks.
The report plays up the fact that this year’s Senate Bill 6195 laid out a framework for funding basic education and created the Education Funding Task Force to make further recommendations. While those steps are certainly commendable, the legislature nevertheless did not make enough progress to fulfill its McCleary mandate this year. By the end of the 2016 legislative session, it had failed to make the additional investments necessary to fully fund basic education under the court’s order. Two big-ticket items remain to be addressed during the 2017 legislative session: K-3 class size reduction (which the committee estimates will cost over $1 billion); and staff compensation (the cost of which is significant, but still unknown). Great teachers and small class sizes are necessary for a high-quality learning environment. It is especially challenging to get and keep the best teachers and aides when they are overextended and don’t receive a decent salary.
Excellent schools are a foundation for thriving communities. They set our future generations up for success. And we cannot expect excellent schools in our state unless our legislature makes real and equitable investments in the education system. As we’ve written in the past, finding the billions of dollars required to pay for our K-12 public schools will require policymakers to bring in new sources of revenue, as well as to reform our tax system, which over-relies on the dwindling sales tax and asks the people with the lowest incomes to pay the highest percentage of their incomes in taxes. Further, cutting existing investments in important priorities like feeding hungry kids and having safe communities threatens the well-being of our state and still won’t provide the billions of dollars needed to fund McCleary.
The 2016 session marked the fifth year the legislature convened to work toward complying with the Supreme Court’s order and identifying a solution to fund basic education. Now, the legislature has only one more session to do so: the deadline to fund basic education is the end of 2017.
The clock is ticking.
One out of every 14 children in Washington state has at least one parent who is or has been incarcerated. These 109,000 kids’ counterparts nationwide total 5.1 million. The number of children affected by incarceration in Washington is 6.5 times greater than the number of inmates in the state’s 12 correctional centers. The needs of these children, as they face increased risks and significant obstacles in life, are usually overlooked.
In a new KIDS COUNT report released today, A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities, the Annie E. Casey Foundation proposes recommendations that state and local policymakers should adopt to help the children and families of inmates.
While states spend heavily on corrections, few resources exist to support children and families who are left behind. These kids and families often struggle with emotional and financial instability as a result of having an incarcerated parent. Many children of incarcerated parents experience increased poverty and stress—which research shows can have as much impact on their well-being as abuse or domestic violence.
Findings from the report include:
- Seven percent of children in Washington state (109,000) have a parent that is or has been incarcerated, which is identical to the national rate. Among states, the percentage of children with an incarcerated parent varies dramatically, from only 3 percent in New Jersey to 13 percent in Kentucky.
- Nationally, the number of children with a father in prison nearly doubled between 1991 and 2007, and those with a mother behind bars more than doubled. Children with a parent who is incarcerated are typically younger and living in low-income families of color, usually with a young single mother who has limited education. Most are younger than 10.
- Nationally, more than 15 percent of the children with parents in federal prison—and more than 20 percent with parents in state prison—are younger than 4. Compared with their white peers, African-American and Latino kids are seven and three times more likely, respectively, to have a parent incarcerated.
The KIDS COUNT report offers common-sense steps officials can take to address the increased poverty and stress that children of incarcerated parents experience, as well as to address the disproportional toll of incarceration on families and communities of color. They include:
- Ensuring children are supported while parents are incarcerated, as well as after they return;
- Connecting parents that have returned to the community with pathways to employment; and
- Strengthening communities, particularly those disproportionally affected by incarceration and re-entry, to promote family stability and opportunity.
In Washington state, progress is being made to support the families of people who are incarcerated. This past legislative session, the House and Senate unanimously passed a law allowing formerly incarcerated adults to petition a court for a “Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity” that would become part of the adult’s record—showing potential landlords and employers that the former prisoner has fulfilled the conditions of their sentence and is paying off (or has paid off) any fines. This improves opportunities for housing and employment. House Bill 1390 was also introduced, which would have eased the financial blow of incarceration on a family experiencing incarceration. While the bill did not pass, its introduction is illustrative of building momentum in our state to reduce the impact of incarceration on families.
The confinement of a parent should not close the doors to opportunity for a child and their family forever. Washington state lawmakers should work alongside communities and families that have experienced incarceration to enact common-sense reforms that reverse the damage of incarceration on kids, families, and communities.
Your tax dollars help to make the lives of Washingtonians better. From college scholarships to affordable health coverage, public safety to parks, state investments from tax dollars serve the common good. These investments are essential to creating the kind of state in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
This infographic (which we encourage you to share far and wide) provides a breakdown of how state and local taxes invest in Washington’s people and communities:
Click here to see the full infographic.
And here are just three of the many ways state and federal investments made possible by tax dollars have helped Washingtonians over the past few years:
- 241,000 Washington kids have a better shot at getting ahead. A 2015 KIDS COUNT report found that the many programs that help kids and families – including school lunch programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and cash assistance – helped lift 241,000 children out of poverty between 2011 and 2013. That cut the poverty rate among Washington’s kids in half.
- The implementation of the Affordable Care Act means 300,000 more Washingtonians can see a doctor when they need to. This is according to the 2015 U.S. Census report that showed a 5 percent increase in the number of people in our state who have obtained health coverage since 2013. That’s equivalent to almost the entire population of the cities of Everett and Tacoma combined.
- We have seen progress in improving the health of Washington’s environment. Over the past 15 years, investments in environmental protections have allowed Washington to make some strides toward cleaning up its air, water, and land. For example, the 2015 Progress Index showed that the percentage of people impacted by drinking water that doesn’t meet water-quality standards decreased from 5 percent to just 0.2 percent between 2000 and 2012. And the percentage of hazardous waste recycled by businesses and other facilities increased from 16 percent to 24 percent between 2000 and 2013.
While we celebrate these successes, we also recognize we still have much work to do to ensure that our state has adequate funding in its budget. If we really want all Washingtonians to have the opportunity to live healthy, productive lives, we need a state budget that provides the investments to do so. Yet our state’s economy and progress continue to be threatened by some short-sighted policymakers who refuse to support raising the resources necessary to provide high-quality K-12 schools, clean up toxic sites across the state, and provide emergency services that we all rely on.
In fact, too many lawmakers simply won’t take common-sense steps to ensure there is enough revenue to invest in these critical areas unless the public demands it. It’s up to those of us who envision a better Washington to change the dialogue about how essential tax dollars are to our state’s prosperity. Powerful, common-sense solutions to our state’s funding shortfall exist – like fixing our state’s broken tax system (a system that forces people with the lowest incomes to pay the highest state tax rates), closing wasteful tax loopholes for big corporations, and taxing capital gains for those with the highest incomes.
When we come together to push for these solutions, we can get on track toward creating a just and prosperous state. That is why the Budget & Policy Center is teaming up with an incredible group of experts and community leaders at Fuse Washington, Sound Alliance, OneAmerica, Spokane Alliance, Progress Alliance, and others to launch All In for Washington – a multi-year effort to help people understand why cleaning up our tax code and unlocking new sources of revenue is so critical to our state’s future.
Stay tuned for an announcement with many more details about the powerful work this campaign is doing in Olympia and in key communities throughout the state this year and beyond! In the meantime, you’re invited to attend one of All In’s upcoming messaging workshops throughout the state on “A New Narrative on Taxes, Revenue, and Government.” Here’s the schedule and registration info about the messaging roadshow.
And on this Tax Day, we hope you will talk with your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and social media friends about how important taxes are to our economy and the health of our communities. Together, let’s be All In for Washington!
Many Washingtonians who struggled during the recession are now on more stable footing thanks to the economic recovery, but there are still many people in our state who are facing barriers to employment and unable to make ends meet. And as of this month, thousands of those Washingtonians, including many veterans and homeless people, are losing their access to the Supplemental Assistance Program (SNAP), a critical tool to help them put food on the table.
Strict time limits are being reinstated for SNAP – or Basic Food in Washington state – for non-disabled, childless adults who are unable to find full-time employment. This will result in some of our most vulnerable populations throughout the state facing an increase in hunger and hardship.
It's not too late for lawmakers to rethink the decision to allow these time limits to be reinstated.
The 1996 federal welfare reform law originally imposed time limits on individuals who are not working or participating in a 20-hour per week work training program. Those individuals could only receive SNAP for three months out of any three years. However, during the economic recession, states like Washington rightly chose to waive this rule in areas of high unemployment. Unfortunately, states have begun to re-impose the time limit as the economy improves. In Washington state, approximately 15,000 childless adults who have previously qualified for SNAP who are living in King, Snohomish, and parts of Pierce County are no longer receiving food assistance as of this month.
A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities sheds more light on who is impacted by these cuts:
- Those facing cuts to food assistance are some of the poorest in the state, including those who are homeless, veterans, and part-time workers. Impacted individuals have extremely low incomes – an average of $2,000 per year for a single person in 2015. Many live in rural areas where poverty can be especially high and jobs are few and far between. In addition, the number of underemployed workers (i.e. those who work fewer hours than they wish, or in jobs for which they are overqualified or underpaid) among communities of color remains especially high, further evidence that our economic recovery is not being felt equally for all Washingtonians (see graphic).
- Many of those impacted do not qualify for any other forms of assistance to help them get enough to eat or make ends meet. The reinstatement of the three-month time limit is especially detrimental to this population as there are no other benefits available to most unemployed workers without children.
- Many face significant barriers to employment, including limited education and skills, or are caring for elderly, sick, or disabled relatives. This impacts their ability to find work. And those people who do find work often struggle to meet the 20-hour requirement.
Although the overall unemployment rate is falling in Washington state, other labor market data indicate that many people who want to work still cannot find jobs, while others who want to work full-time can find only part-time employment (see graphic). In addition, access to employment programs is limited in most states. This means that a number of individuals will lose SNAP regardless of how hard they are looking for work or how much they want to attend a job training program. Many of those impacted are already working, but may not be able to find the hours needed to meet the requirement.
[Click on graphic to enlarge it.]
Cutting off this basic assistance to keep food on the table for the poorest Washingtonians will not mean that these people will be better able to find employment or more hours of work. It will simply mean that people who are already having a hard time making ends meet will now have to deal with increased hunger on top of everything else.
While congressional action to reverse or limit this draconian rule seems unlikely, states can take steps to limit its impact. In Washington state, lawmakers and advocates have taken some laudable steps to do so: They're extending the waiver in areas still struggling with high unemployment, increasing access to job training programs, and examining rules and exemptions to ensure that individuals are not arbitrarily cut off. Nevertheless, 15,000 Washingtonians could still face even more hardship as a result of these limits. And more needs to be done.
To learn more about the SNAP time limits and their impacts on communities, read this new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
*The previous version of this post did not mention the steps that Washington is taking to limit the impact of these federal SNAP time limits. The post has been updated to provide more detailed information about some of the protections in place for people facing losses to food assistance. Thank you to Christina Wong, Public Policy Manager with Northwest Harvest, for contributing to this post.
While the final 2016 supplemental operating budget makes some important progress on addressing Washington state’s most emergent needs – like the teacher shortage, the homelessness crisis, and wildfires – the deal is nevertheless shortsighted. Until lawmakers craft a budget that invests in all of the resources people and communities across the state need to thrive, we will fail to move the needle on improving our economy and on the issues that matter most to Washingtonians.
The budget deal reached by lawmakers focuses on addressing a set of emergencies that can no longer be ignored. To fund these emergencies, lawmakers rely on shifting resources away from other major priorities and using funds from the Budget Stabilization Account, the state’s rainy day fund that should typically be used during economic downturns (see chart). The final budget is a $191 million net increase from the 2015-2017 enacted budget. Noteworthy changes and exclusions include:
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT & TRUST
- $190 million to cover the costs of 2015’s wildfires. Resources taken from the rainy day fund will be used to address the unexpected costs of the worst wildfire season in our state’s history.
- No major investments to adequately fund K-12 education per the McCleary ruling. Lawmakers put off the task of adequately funding our public schools until next session, leaving students and schools across the state without the resources they need to obtain and provide a high-quality education.
- $1.2 million to help close the education opportunity gap. Lawmakers took steps to close the opportunity gap in education by implementing several recommendations from the Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee, including: reducing discipline for students of color, instituting mandatory cultural competency training for teachers and staff, and requiring better, more detailed racial and ethnic data for students.
- $13 million to improve the availability and quality of family child care centers, but no major investment in the Early Start Act. The additional resources cover a collective bargaining agreement reached in 2015 and will help increase the number of slots and improve the affordability of family child care. However, no significant progress was made on advancing the Early Start Act, which needs additional resources to increase availability and affordability of early learning opportunities.
- $5 million to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, but no salary increase. Lawmakers failed to provide teachers with a pay increase, but a small amount of resources are provided to recruit and retain new teachers and para-educators in response to Washington state's teacher shortage.
HEALTHY PEOPLE & ENVIRONMENT
- Reduced funding to address toxic cleanup. Lawmakers continue to raid the Model Toxics Control Account (MCTA) to balance the general fund. MCTA resources are supposed to be spent on cleaning up more than 5,700 toxic sites across the state, preventing harmful air and water pollution, and funding community participation grants so the public can address a toxic pollution threat. The funding cuts or delays are in response to a dramatic drop in revenue from polluters across the state.
- $41 million in additional resources to treat and support people with mental illness. The additional resources will be used to support Western State Hospital, expand medical staff, and increase community-level services.
- $11 million for programs supporting homeless youth. The investment will create 23 new HOPE beds, which provide shelter, support, and permanency planning for street youth. These resources also include other temporary services for homeless youth, much of which will flow to counties.
- $49 million reduction in state funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). By far, one of the most egregious changes to the state budget is the continued “sweeping” of resources out of TANF to balance the state budget. Previous cuts to TANF – the primary program to help families with low incomes to find or keep a job – have kicked people off of the program, and made it harder to get on, resulting in a caseload decline. Lawmakers continue to funnel the resources from this program to balance the budget.
The final budget deal did avoid a revenue-draining tax break for giant media corporations, which was welcome news. And while many of the investments made this session are laudable, the fact that our state budget only allows for investment in issues that have reached the point of emergency should alert lawmakers to the problem underlying these crises – a broken revenue system and a prevailing anti-tax sentiment is preventing us from having the investments we need to allow Washingtonians and our economy to make progress.
Scrambling to deal with emergencies, dipping into rainy day funds, and cutting important programs is just bad business. Crafting a budget that makes real progress for the people and economy of
Washington state requires lawmakers to take bold steps and big thinking to ensure that there is enough revenue to prepare for the long-term needs of our state.