House Democrats released a supplemental budget proposal Monday that raises teacher salaries, attempts to fix staffing shortages at Western State Hospital and uses “rainy day” funds to pay for wildfire costs and homeless programs.
“This is not a year to sit on our hands and do nothing. We have some significant issues, some significant crisis and we intend to do something about them with this budget,” said House lead budget writer Rep. Hans Dunshee at a press conference Monday.
The supplemental budget spends $467 million, including $99 million to address the state’s teacher shortage. The proposal would raise starting teacher salaries from $35,000 to $40,000 a year, and offer teachers a $650 yearly bonus for continuing professional certification.
Democrats propose paying for salary increases by ending six tax breaks, including a sales tax exemption on bottled water and a sales tax break for out-of-state residents.
“This budget is about far more than meeting the McCleary decision,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan.
The supplemental budget spends $47 on mental health care, including salary and staffing increases at Western State Hospital in Lakewood. “We’re trying to attract quality doctors to work at a dangerous place, and that’s going to take money,” Dunshee said.
The budget also calls for tapping the state’s emergency “rainy day fund” to pay for $190 million in fire suppression efforts during the devastating 2015 wildfire season, as well as nearly $38 million in homeless programs.
It takes a three-fifths vote of the Legislature to use money from the rainy day fund, and Republicans have previously said they don’t believe that homelessness meets the fund’s requirements. Democrats on Monday disputed that idea.
“Wildland fires are not the only emergent, exigent circumstances that we find ourselves in. We found ourselves dealing with a whole rash of housing stability, affordability and safety issues,” said Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane.
Republican Sen. Steve Litzow criticized the budget proposal, saying it “breaks the bipartisan agreements we all have been working on” to fully fund education under the McCleary decision.
“Their plan replaces real dollars with promises, which the Supreme Court has rightly rejected,” Litzow said in a statement.
The proposed supplemental budget is scheduled for a public hearing at 3:30 p.m. Monday in the House Appropriations, followed by a committee vote on Tuesday.
Read the full budget document at this link.