As the 2016 Washington state legislative session gets underway today, policymakers have an opportunity to keep the momentum going from the 2015 session by promoting policies that advance the long-term growth of our state’s economy and the well-being of all Washingtonians. At the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, we’ll be working to continue progress on several common-sense policy ideas we developed for the 2015-2017 biennium.
In the last session, legislators took steps to support workers, families, and children by closing four unproductive tax breaks, partially restoring the cash grant for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, allowing families to stay on Working Connections Child Care for a continuous 12 months, and restoring funding for the State Food Assistance Program. [See our 2016 final budget analysis for more details.] In addition, many other items from our Legislative Agenda — including implementing a tax on capital gains, raising the statewide minimum wage, and fully funding the Working Families Tax Rebate — were included in one or more budget proposals or approved by either the House or Senate. These proposals are all ready for the Legislature to take action on in 2016.
As we enter this session, new opportunities are emerging to advance more policies that create the building blocks of a strong economy. For example, the Budget & Policy Center is working on ways to bolster family security from generation to generation so Washingtonians who struggle today can build a future. This session, we will advocate for better data on intergenerational poverty and for the creation of long-term goals – that the State is held accountable for – to promote prosperity for parents and their children. In addition:
- As advocates plan ballot initiatives in 2016 to improve the well-being of Washingtonians – including raising the statewide minimum wage and creating a statewide carbon reduction program – legislators could also take their own steps to help move these priorities forward.
- The Legislature can respond to the State Supreme Court’s McCleary case mandate to act on school funding, especially in terms of teacher compensation. Governor Inslee’s recent supplemental budget proposal that closed four unproductive tax breaks to partially address the need for better teacher pay was a good start. Now the Legislature should go further to reform our revenue system and make the public investments needed to end the teacher shortage in our state.
During the 2016 session, which is expected to last 60 days, the Budget & Policy Center will continue to promote our 2015-2017 priorities for shared prosperity in Washington state. We will put particular emphasis on advancing racial equity and on some other key areas where there is likely to be most potential for progress in a short session:
- Racial Equity: Policymakers should pass legislation, like Senate Bill 5752, to require racial and ethnic impact statements that assess how proposed policies close the opportunity gap for people of color.
- Revenue: Policymakers should close even more unproductive tax breaks, advance a capital gains tax, and improve tax-break transparency and accountability. These steps will rightly support a revenue system that provides the resources needed for all Washingtonians to make ends meet – such as living-wage jobs and good public transportation. And if Initiative 1366 is not struck down by the courts, the Legislature should overturn it in order to preserve essential investments and prevent endless gridlock around state tax and budget decisions.
- Economic Security: Legislators should support meaningful public investments to help people who are falling behind in Washington state, including programs like Working Connections Child Care. They should also establish and be accountable to a long-term vision to increase family economic security.
- Education: And they should support basic education at the level of funding required by the McCleary ruling, without taking resources away from other vital services. Focus needs to be put on improving salaries for teachers and ensuring that there is an equitable, high-quality K-12 school system that enables all our children to do their best.
Find our full 2015-17 legislative agenda here.