The revised spending plan for the current 2021-23 budget cycle put forward by Washington state legislative leaders wisely increases funding for many community structures needed to help residents recover from the pandemic and economic crisis – like affordable housing, childcare, and direct cash assistance. Budget writers prudently rejected calls for large tax cuts that would unnecessarily benefit the wealthy and damage Washington’s recovery by permanently siphoning resources away from schools, health care, and other foundations. The final agreement appropriately increases budget reserves, which will protect critical community investments in the event of another economic downturn or other public emergency.
Buoyed by strong state tax collections and federal stimulus funds, the 2022 supplemental budget includes significant new funding for many public priorities. Noteworthy actions in the budget that will support Washingtonians’ well-being include (but are not limited to):
- Supporting community-based outreach efforts for the Working Families Tax Credit to ensure eligible households are able to claim the credit ($10 million, operating budget).
- Allocating resources to study wealth inequities in Washington state and the potential impact of the Washington Future Fund, a savings bonds program for every baby born into a family that utilizes Medicaid. This study will give lawmakers and the public valuable information on how to reverse the rising wealth gap ($450,000, operating budget).
- Making a historic investment in affordable housing that will improve housing stability for thousands of residents ($415 million, capital budget).
- Increasing the monthly benefit for the Aged, Blind, or Disabled program from $197 to $417 per month, which will allow people to live in greater security and dignity ($36.6 million, operating budget).
- Allowing families who would otherwise lose access to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to access benefits for another year, which will help struggling families make ends meet while the economy continues to recover ($11 million, operating budget).
- Expanding Apple Health to all immigrants so that all Washington residents can receive basic and necessary medical care ($4.2 million, operating budget).
- Better resourcing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force and creating an alert for missing Indigenous persons to help decrease the alarmingly high rate of disappearances and murders of Indigenous women and people ($866,000, operating budget).
The final budget also includes substantial funding for childcare and early learning, more nurses and counselors at schools, and updated cost-of-living adjustments or hazard pay increases for public school employees, caregivers, and other frontline workers. In making these kinds of improvements, the final budget helps shore up some of Washington’s core economic pillars that support the health and vitality of all communities.
Yet legislators missed a big opportunity to improve the financial security and overall well-being of Washingtonians by omitting any funding for a guaranteed basic income program. Basic income pilot programs are proliferating across the country as an effective and dignifying way to reduce poverty. Experience from other pilot programs have shown that unconditional cash payments improve brain development in babies, improve physical health, and decrease depression and anxiety.
The final budget also includes $2.3 billion for the Department of Corrections, which is a slight decrease from the enacted 2021-2023 budget but is still an unacceptably high amount. The carceral system, including agencies like the Department of Corrections, disproportionately harms Black and brown community members and does little to actually improve public safety. These funds would be more beneficial and would truly improve security and stability if invested in affordable housing, cash assistance, and other social and health services.
The rapid turnaround of the short session removed opportunities for community input on the budget, which would have increased accountability and made the budget better meet community needs. Budget leaders should increase transparency during the process by publicizing the timeline for budget releases and hearings at the beginning of the legislative session and providing ample time for Washingtonians to respond to what is in the budget.
Finally, lawmakers missed an opportunity to continue rebalancing Washington’s notoriously inequitable state and local tax code. Going forward, lawmakers should enact new sources of equitable revenue, such a billionaire wealth tax, to replace the temporary federal stimulus funds that will expire in 2024 – in order to ensure all communities can thrive in the coming years.
Stay tuned on our blog for a more detailed analysis of the final budget. (And sign up for our email alerts if you don’t already receive them.)