Gov. Jay Inslee today proposed his 2016 supplemental budget that makes modest adjustments to the current 2015–17 budget. The adjustments primarily pay for caseload increases, emergency responses to wildfires and urgent mental health needs.
“Six months ago, I signed a new two-year budget for the state. As I said at the time, it is a great budget for Washington state — a budget that is moving our state forward,” Inslee said. “This supplemental budget will focus on implementing these historic investments and make modest, responsible adjustments to follow through on our good work.”
The 2015–17 budget approved in June included funding for early learning, all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes as well as a tuition cut for all public college students. It restored funding for state parks, reinvested in foster care and mental health services, and provided the first general pay increase for state workers since 2008.
Since the budget was passed, state revenue projections have grown by $245 million, thanks to steady growth in Washington’s economy. Washington consistently ranks in the top five states for job growth and has the highest GDP growth in the nation.
Yet the state’s costs are growing, too. More children are eligible for Medicaid, the state’s prison system is keeping released offenders under community supervision for longer periods and health care costs for vulnerable populations are soaring.
Last year’s wildfire season was the worst on record, burning more than 1 million acres of land and destroying hundreds of homes. Battling the fires cost the state nearly $180 million. Inslee’s budget also includes about $29 million to aid recovery and prepare for new fire seasons.
Inslee’s budget also addresses urgent needs in the state’s mental health system. It includes $47 million in new spending on mental health programs, in large part to increase staffing at state psychiatric hospitals and boost community-based programs that minimize the need for hospitalization.
“We know we have to do more for mental health in this state. We have urgent short-term needs, but we also need to take a long view on how to build a stronger mental health system,” Inslee said.
Inslee highlighted another urgent issue in need of attention in the legislative session that convenes Jan. 11— a teacher shortage affecting school districts statewide. As a first step to address the difficulty in recruiting and retaining beginning teachers, the governor is proposing legislation to raise the minimum salary for beginning teachers from $35,700 to $40,000 per year, give all other teachers a 1 percent raise and increase funding for teacher mentoring programs. To pay for these improvements, Inslee proposed eliminating four outdated tax breaks.
“School districts across the state are facing a serious teacher shortage, a problem that hurts our children’s ability to succeed in the classroom,” Inslee said. “I am committed to making progress on improving salaries and support programs so we can recruit and retain outstanding teachers. It will take time to step up to the full challenge but it is important to get started now.”
The governor’s supplemental transportation and capital budgets also call for minor adjustments. For example, he is funding 10 additional traffic incident response vehicles to clear collisions and reduce traffic delays, especially on Interstate 5, and additional investments to address homelessness and expand low-income housing.