The biennial operating budget passed last year amounted to $52.5 billion in spending. However, since then, the revenue forecast for the biennium has increased significantly. Combined with other accounting adjustments, the forecast has increased by approximately $1.55 billion in additional resources available for the biennium and $2.3 billion over four years.
The proposed House operating and Senate operating budgets were released on Monday, February 24, and heard in their respective fiscal committees that afternoon. Both capital budgets have now been released, along with the House transportation budget.
HB 2325 makes approximately $1.2 billion in changes to bring the total biennial operating budget to $53.7 billion. Of that, maintenance level changes only account for $144 million, with the remaining billion devoted to policy level spending. With this budget, the near general fund ending balance would be $627 million, and the budget stabilization account (rainy day fund) ending fund balance for the biennium is projected to be $2.2 billion.
On the Senate side, SB 6168 increases net new spending by $1.1 billion, or approximately 2.2% over the previously enacted budget. Of that, $143 million are current obligations and $997 million in net new spending, bringing the near general fund operating spending to $53.6 billion.
Of the new spending, $315 million is directly related to the one-time revenue received in the February forecast. Senate Ways & Means Chair Rolfes proposes to spend those funds on homelessness shelters and programs, climate resiliency activities, and the construction of the University of Washington Behavioral Health Hospital.
The Senate budget also proposes to transfer $25 million into the multi-modal transportation account from the general fund.
Being house-specific budgets, each budget bill funds that body’s priorities. However, both fund important matters like reimbursement for coronavirus response and making up for the loss to foundational public health services that resulted from lower revenues in vaping taxes as a result of the health scares this summer. It appears that FPHS fares slightly better in the House budget proposal.
- Both proposed budgets also fund local solid waste financial assistance.
- Both budgets fund the PERS 1 benefit increase, so we should expect one of those bills to pass along with a corresponding fiscal hit to the counties and cities.
- Both budgets spend heavily on affordable housing and homelessness, albeit in different ways. This is likely where most negotiation will need to occur.
Regarding “new” money to local governments, the House budget funds a one-time appropriation into the Criminal Justice Treatment Account (CJTA), a fund that has been partially swept for several years, of $4.5 million to increase resources available to support drug courts for delivering treatment and recovery support services to persons within the criminal justice system. While this does not eliminate the sweep, it is a good start toward fully funding the CJTA for its intended uses.
The House also funds an increase in marijuana revenue sharing of $3.5 million. According to the terms of the “agreement” when marijuana sales became legal, local governments should have seen a $5 million increase last year and this year. However, again, this increase is a great step toward honoring the original intent.
Elections funding is addressed in both budgets, again with differences between the two houses depending on which of their bills may pass. The House funds even year election cost reimbursement and elections security, while the Senate funds elections security and young voter outreach.
With four budgets released on one day, three with hearings just a few hours later, more time is needed to analyze all of the proposals fully. The versions will be amended and passed from their respective committees and then move to action by the full House or Senate within the next several days, likely this week. After that time, the budgets will be negotiated between the two houses for a final bill.
A more detailed analysis of a variety of subjects related to the budgets can be found in other posts.