OLYMPIA – Senate Democrats today introduced a sweeping, $59.2 billion two-year budget proposal to increase funding for vital state services, including targeted support for the state’s pandemic recovery efforts and historic investments to support Washington’s working families.

The 2021-23 operating budget proposal also leverages an additional $7 billion in one-time federal funds from the American Rescue Plan to bring relief to struggling households and help the state emerge from the pandemic with a stronger safety net and a more resilient public health system.

“This budget reflects our state’s strength, determination and will to defeat the virus, and includes the most ambitious and strategic set of investments in the history of our state,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. “Everywhere you look in this budget, we have seized the opportunity to build a stronger, more equitable state. This is an ambitious set of priorities that will guide a sustainable recovery. It is a budget that meets the moment.”

The budget includes an additional $150 million over the next two years for the state’s public health system – the first significant new investment in decades to help rebuild a system that has outperformed other states over the past year despite inadequate resources. A one-time use of $1 billion in federal money would help the state swiftly administer COVID-19 vaccinations and bolster testing and tracing efforts.

The budget provides funding for a comprehensive set of police and corrections reforms to increase trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, and provides greater crisis response tools to address behavioral health. Key investments will also support reentry for people leaving incarceration and to help people struggling with substance use disorder.

Budget highlights include a landmark expansion of state funding for high-quality childcare and early learning (Fair Start for Kids Act), funds to expand a tax credit for working families passed more than a decade ago, money to help stabilize school districts across the state hurt by declining enrollment during the pandemic, and the largest investment in state parks since the great recession, and critical new spending for wildfire prevention and suppression.

“This is a budget that responds to our neighbors’ needs and priorities and has been shaped by voices around the state,” said Sen. June Robinson (D-Everett), vice chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. “It keeps the money flowing through our communities – to our schools, our working parents, our businesses, our elders – to set us on the best path to rebuild and recover. For over a year now, Washingtonians have displayed remarkable resilience and strength in the face of a historic challenge. Now, we need historic investments and relief to keep our state resilient and come back even stronger than before.”

Highlights of the 2021-23 operating budget proposal include:

K-12 education

  • $1.7 billion in federal grants to assist school districts as they safely reopen and to help students with learning loss.
  • $89 million in combined state and federal funding for special education.
  • $33 million to increase counselors in high-poverty school districts.
  • $191 million to stabilize school districts that have seen a decrease in enrollment, ensuring schools can be fully staffed when classes resume in the fall.

Higher education

  • $28 million for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
  • $3.6 million to complete the expansion of the Spokane medical school.
  • $42 million to support the University of Washington hospital system.

Public health

  • $1 billion in federal money for vaccination and other pandemic response.
  • $100 million in federal money to bolster the state’s public health workforce.
  • $150 million for foundational public health services.

Behavioral health

  • $170 million in combined funding to implement a variety of strategies, including work to continue adding more beds in community-based settings, increased Medicaid reimbursement rates, and additional crisis response support.
  • $59 million in federal dollars for mental health and substance abuse grants.

Health care

  • $50 million to increase reimbursement rates for dentists, pediatricians and primary care physicians.
  • $100 million to make health care more affordable by reducing rates on the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

Long term care and developmental disabilities

  • $454 million in combined state and federal dollars to increase vendor rates for nursing homes, assisted living centers, and adult family homes.
  • $30 million in state money to eliminate the waiting list for clients needing services from the state’s Developmental Disabilities Administration.
  • $50 million in flexible funds for the Dan Thompson Memorial Developmental Disabilities Community Trust Account.

Children, youth and families

  • $450 million in combined state and federal dollars to fully fund the Fair Start for Kids Act, which includes a major expansion of Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) slots and rate increases (500 new slots in 2022 and 400 new slots in 2023).

Housing and homelessness

  • $850 million in federal money to support affordable housing and reduce homelessness, including rental assistance, shelter capacity grants, and homeowner assistance.
  • $44 million in state dollars to address landlord-tenant relations by providing tenant protections and providing for legal representation in eviction cases.

Police accountability and corrections

  • $26 million to create a state Office of Internal Investigations to bring a neutral, objective perspective to the investigation of police brutality.
  • $12 million to implement a number of police accountability reforms passed this session.
  • $38 million to expand the graduated reentry program that helps people leaving prison successfully transition back into the community.

Human services

  • $582 million to support businesses and workers across the state by providing unemployment insurance tax relief.
  • $300 million for additional Immigrant Relief Fund payments to individuals.
  • $268 million to fund the Working Families Tax Credit.
  • $200 million in federal money for expanded Paid Family Leave for individuals forced out of work during the pandemic.
  • 15% increase in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Natural resources

  • $125 million to fund firefighting resources, improve fire-susceptible forests, and cut fire risk at the expanding juncture of urban areas and forests.
  • $24 million to fund the Climate Commitment Act, which would place an enforceable, declining limit on climate pollution from the largest-emitting sectors of its economy.
  • $20 million to ensure Washington State Parks are fully staffed and equipped by adding an additional 300 employees.
  • $10 million to fund the HEAL Act, which would reduce environmental health disparities by using principles of environmental justice.

The Senate proposal strategically uses one-time funds to make significant down payments on the state’s pension liabilities while also leaving healthy reserves to guard against a future fiscal emergency – $1 billion in state funds and $2.3 billion in federal funding.

The Senate proposal is scheduled to receive a hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee on Friday at 1 p.m.

Click here to view full details on Senate operating budget proposal.