Sine Die on March 10, 2022
At 11:35 pm on Thursday, March 10, the 67th biennium of the Washington State Legislature came to a close. This session began in the darkness of the Omicron surge and ended in optimism 24 hours and 25 minutes before the expiration of Washington’s indoor mask mandate. And yet, this session bore many of the same COVID-19 restrictions as last session, most notably the closure of offices to constituents and lobbyists wishing to meet with members and staff in person.
Monumental supplemental operation budget
The end of session marked the passage of a monumental supplemental operating budget that increased spending by $3.2 billion increasing the two-year operating budget to $64.1 billion. The budget includes no new taxes and retains $4.2 billion in reserves over the 4-year outlook period.
The budget was also headlined by a once-in-a-generation transportation revenue package, “Move Ahead Washington”, that aims to reduce emissions and dependence on fossil fuels with significant investments in transit and green infrastructure.
The Legislature accomplished Move Ahead WA in part by using funds raised through the Climate Commitment Act, the cap-and-invest program passed by the Legislature in 2021. It also ensures the state’s ability to move forward on a new clean fuel standard. The package includes investments in hybrid-electric ferries, zero-emission buses, electric vehicle infrastructure and projects to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. Combined with the operating budget, this package is part of a more than $1 billion investment over the next few years to ensure Washington state is ready to transition to zero-emission vehicles, providing critical resources to reduce emissions in the state’s highest polluting sector.
Housing and homelessness
The Legislature also closed on important investments in housing and homelessness with new funding for various housing and shelter programs. The Legislature’s operating and capital budgets will support nearly 3,900 additional housing units in communities across the state. Importantly, legislators approved more than $50 million to transition people living in unsanctioned encampments on the public right of way to permanent housing and to work with local governments and social service organizations to remediate encampment sites. (See Homelessness Investment Chart below)
Salmon habitat restoration
The supplemental budget includes an additional $200 million to support salmon habitat restoration and recovery efforts. The new transportation package also includes $2.4 billion for culverts which is another major win for salmon efforts.
Among the new education investments approved by legislators is funding that increases the number of counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers available to K-12 students. Legislators also approved policies to promote registered apprenticeship programs that provide training opportunities for students in health care, manufacturing, construction and key sectors.
The new budget supports efforts to increase the state’s health care workforce, especially among nurses, nursing assistants, and medical assistants. This also included a significant rate increase for behavioral health providers and $100 million in provider relief money to support the behavioral health workforce. The pandemic highlighted the urgency of addressing shortages in the health care, behavioral health, and long-term care workforce.
Ongoing COVID funding was also included to continue efforts related to vaccinations, testing, and monitoring disease and variant activity. These funds also provide local health departments with funds to operate community-level COVID activities. Additional funds were also provided to support additional capacity in long-term care in order to relieve strain on hospital capacity.
This budget also gives critical support to children and youth in need of behavioral health supports. This budget significantly increases the state’s capacity of children’s long-term inpatient beds — increasing from the 37 funded currently to 83 beds total by 2024 — and provides important community-based supports such as school-based health centers, youth behavioral health navigators, and youth suicide prevention. The operating budget also includes more than $21 million to expand behavioral health services.
In addition, the operating budget:
- Transfers $2 billion to the Transportation budget to fund Move Ahead WA
- Transfers $650 million to the Capital Budget for housing, homelessness, and other construction programs
- Includes a one-time transfer of $350 million to Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program to address funding shortfalls created by the program’s popularity during the pandemic
- Includes an additional $117 million to address the growing threat of wildfire
- Additional investments included in the final budget build upon last year’s biennial budget by expanding food assistance programs, utility assistance that includes broadband, and expands the Aged, Blind, and Disabled grants from $197/month to $417/month
- Allocates $74 million for refugee support
While the budget and transportation package were the focus of the last days of session and contain important provisions to help working families, legislators approved several other notable policies including:
- Fixes to the state’s long-term care insurance program.
- The nation’s first alert system for missing and murdered Indigenous people.
- The Affirm Washington Abortion Access Act strengthens access to abortion care providers.
- Gun violence prevention measures such as a ban on high-capacity magazines, open-carrying of firearms in certain public settings such as ballot-counting centers, and a ban on ghost guns.
The Legislature approved more than 300 bills this session. The governor will have 20 days to sign bills after they’re delivered to his office. Scheduled bill actions are available on the governor’s bill action web page.
Brynn Brady, Ceiba Consulting