The House and Senate are set to begin negotiations on a final supplemental budget plan following the passage of budget proposals out of both chambers this week. While both budgets fund mental health and wildfires, they remain apart by more than $400 million in overall spending.
The budget approved by the Democratic-majority House adds about $476 million in spending to the state’s current two-year budget. It raises beginning teacher salaries to $40,000 a year in an attempt to address the state’s teacher shortage.
The budget also taps into the state’s “rainy day” fund to help the homeless and pay for costs related to last year’s devastating wildfires.
Several Republicans spoke in opposition to the budget on the House floor Thursday for using emergency funds to pay for homeless programs.
“Homelessness has been growing for more than a decade,” said Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger. “It’s fine to say a supplemental budget is to deal with emergencies, that doesn’t mean that every single thing is suddenly an emergency that has to be solved with it today.”
Democrats argued that homelessness is an emergency that cannot wait until next year’s budget.
“You know, I haven’t heard any objections to the $180 million dollars that we’re investing in this budget to deal with the fires,” said Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. “But who is going to tell a 10-year-old kid who is living under an underpass that his or her issue isn’t emergent?”
The House budget passed with a vote of 50 to 47. Watch TVW video of the House floor debate here.
The Republican-controlled Senate took up its supplemental budget on the floor Friday afternoon. It adds about $49 million in spending to the current budget, largely focused on mental health and wildfires. It also provides $6.6 million for charter schools to stay open in Washington after a Washington Supreme Court decision threatened to the close the schools.
Democratic Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe told members she was “extremely disappointed’ by the priorities of the Senate budget.
“We rush to fund charter schools for 1,000 children. I want the same thing for our one million children in our public schools,” McAuliffe said.
Lead Republican budget writer Sen. Andy Hill said the budget is “smart with the way we spend money” while also addressing emergencies at Western State Hospital and fires.
“This sets us up for a successful, sustainable budget when we do a big one next year,” Hill said. “I think it’s really important that we don’t create a bunch of unfunded liabilities.”
The Senate budget passed with a 25-22 vote. Watch TVW video of the Senate floor debate here.
The chambers must negotiate a compromise in the remaining two weeks of session.