A Look at How the Governor’s Budget Invests in Progress

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A Look at How the Governor’s Budget Invests in Progress

By Andy Nicholas and Kelli Smith - December 16, 2016

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee’s proposal for the upcoming 2017-2019 state budget would help move our state forward by improving health care services, funding great schools, investing in early learning, and taking big steps to make sure Washingtonians have clean air and water. His budget invests in progress for our state and its people, and that should be the aim of legislators when they gather in January 2017 to begin their work on crafting the state budget.

As we wrote previously, Inslee proposes to pay for much-needed investments in schools and in communities across Washington state with forward-thinking, equitable changes to the state’s tax code like a state capital gains tax. Ultimately, the revenue plan would generate $4.4 billion in new revenue in the coming two-year budget cycle.

The chart below shows the new investments included in Inslee’s budget by the value areas included in our Progress Index framework. Major changes in each area are described below.

Click on image to enlarge.



Education represents the largest area of new investment in the governor’s proposed budget. His proposal would increase funding in education by 15.3 percent ($3.7 billion). The bulk of new funding in this area would go to public K-12 schools and would increase base teacher salaries, reduce class sizes, and expand learning assistance and mentoring programs, among other things. Major changes to K-12 funding are detailed in our previous analysis. Other new investments in education include:

  • Making higher education more affordable: The proposal would keep tuition at universities, community colleges, and technical colleges at current levels – rather than allowing them to grow by up to 2.2 percent in the coming budget. It would also expand financial aid to an additional 14,000 aspiring students from families with low incomes.
  • Expanding opportunities for young kids to access high-quality early learning: The governor’s budget ensures that more than 2,700 more children have access to the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP). It would also provide state-funded early learning facilities with more of the resources they need to provide preschool education, and health and nutrition services.

Healthy People and Environment

Inslee’s budget would increase investments that provide access to important health programs, protect public health, and keep our air clean and our water safe by 7.5 percent ($784 million). Major new investments in this area include:

  • Improving mental health services: In response to a federal lawsuit that found that conditions at Washington’s underfunded psychiatric hospitals are inadequate, the budget would add funding for additional staff and for other important changes to improve these hospitals and bring them into compliance. The budget would also make new investments in community mental health services.
  • Providing treatment to thousands of people living with hepatitis C: Nearly 6,000 people receiving health coverage through Medicaid would receive groundbreaking treatment to cure them of hepatitis C. Not only would increased access to treatment help stem the spread of hepatitis C, but it would also allow these individuals to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.
  • Improving public health: The governor’s plan would provide a boost to local public health agencies to fight the spread of infectious diseases and to help communities remain healthy.
  • Fighting air pollution: Inslee’s carbon tax is designed to reduce carbon pollution – the major cause of global warming – in communities across the state. A large share of the revenues from the tax would be invested in clean energy infrastructure and technology needed to help Washington transition to a low-carbon economy. Inslee’s proposal would provide funding necessary to implement the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Clean Air Rule, which requires reductions in carbon emissions and other hazardous air pollutants.

Economic Security

Investments that promote an economy in which all Washingtonians can meet their basic needs and have opportunities to remain stable during a personal financial crisis or economic downturn would be increased by 6.7 percent ($66 million). Major new investments in this area include:

  • Removing barriers for people who need assistance to keep and find a job: Families that participate in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides child care, job training, and cash assistance to help parents with lower incomes find a job, would get a 7.5 percent boost in cash assistance, increasing the average amount to $659 per month. Cash assistance for people with lower incomes who are seniors, vision-impaired, or who have a disability would also be increased to $400 per month from $197 per month. Arbitrary limits that currently prevent thousands of Washingtonians from accessing these services would be eliminated.
  • Improving access to child care for working parents: The budget would take important steps toward improving access for child care through Working Connections Child Care by making increased investments in child care services and in higher pay for providers to help retain great child care workers.
  • Expanding access to supports for those who can’t afford higher energy bills: The carbon tax proposed by the governor, which would help fund schools, transportation, and low-carbon energy infrastructure projects, would increase the price of gasoline, electricity, and natural gas for many Washingtonians. To offset costs for those who can’t afford a significant increase in their utility bills, the governor’s proposal would make the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) available to 29,500 households that don’t currently qualify to participate in the program. LIHEAP reduces utility bills for lower-income households.
  • Reducing homelessness: Temporary rent assistance for homeless families with children would be expanded under the proposal. Other services and housing programs for families and individuals would also be increased.

Community Development & Trust

Investments that increase Washingtonians’ safety, enhance public spaces that we all enjoy, and foster trust in state government would be increased by 5 percent ($318 million). Notable new investments in this area include:

  • Improving the democratic process through free and fair elections: The governor’s budget invests in upgraded technology to improve the accuracy of the state’s voter database and guarantee reliable and accessible voter registration.
  • Increasing access to the legal process for Washingtonians without the means to pay for it: The governor’s budget includes investments to increase capacity in the Washington State Office of Civil Legal Aid, which oversees the provision of legal representation for residents with low incomes in matters such as child custody, housing, consumer fraud, and elder abuse. The budget also boosts funding for the Office of Public Defense, which manages the provision of legal representation to residents with low incomes in criminal matters.
  • Improving public and community spaces and promoting outdoor recreation: The proposal invests in maintaining and streamlining public access to clean and beautiful state parks, increasing prevention measures to protect Washington’s historic structures and campgrounds, and promoting outdoor play and environmental education among Washington’s youth.

To be clear, there are aspects of the governor’s budget proposal that require further analysis. For example, how would his plan addresses systemic racism as well as chronic underfunding of services and infrastructure in communities of color across Washington state? We will be working with partner organizations to assess these and other issues in our analyses of the governor’s proposed budget and the legislature’s proposed budgets in the weeks and months ahead.

But the vision for Washington that the governor’s budget proposal represents is a powerful framework for building the kind of thriving communities we all want to see in our state. As lawmakers include their own priorities when they gather in the upcoming legislative session to build the 2017-2019 state budget, they should embrace the boldness of Gov. Inslee’s proposal.

And for the Budget & Policy Center’s suggestions on how lawmakers can go even further when it comes to cleaning up our tax code, read the “What Else Needs to Be Done” section in our analysis on the governor’s revenue proposal.