OLYMPIA – The ink from his signature wasn’t even dry on the Legislature’s current budget before Gov. Jay Inslee was challenging lawmakers to do more on their next one.
Inslee signed the state’s supplemental operating budget, vetoing some elements such as a section that would have ended the Life Sciences Discovery Fund.
Overall, he called it a budget with “modest adjustments” in many programs and disappointing on education.
Legislators are also disappointed, but more with Inslee’s characterization of their final work product that passed the Senate 48-1 and the House 85-13.
Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said the spending plan, as a supplement to last year’s two-year budget that added almost $1 billion to public schools, was supposed to make modest adjustments.
But it keeps the state in the black through this fiscal period and the next, Braun said.
“There are a lot of tough decisions that had to be made,” he said.
One such decision was to move $20 million out of a special fund for the Life Sciences Discovery program and into the state’s general fund, which pays for a wide range of state programs including public education. Inslee vetoed that section of the budget, calling it “short-sighted” because Life Sciences programs have made the state a leader in health care improvements.
The budget as passed left enough in the special fund to cover current Life Sciences projects, Braun said. But the $20 million the Legislature wanted to take out would help the state meet its upcoming obligations for increased school spending.
That shift would help the Legislature meet the “paramount duty” set down in the state constitution to fund public schools, he said. “We don’t have a paramount duty to fund Life Sciences.”
The state Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to do a better job of meeting its obligations to schools, which will almost certainly be the main budget debate next year. The governor’s staff estimates the state will need to add between $1.5 billion and $2 billion for public schools, which would be beyond the more than $2.5 billion it might need to cover growth in existing state programs and student population, increases in health care costs and any raises for school employees or state workers.
The state expects revenue to grow by about $2.4 billion, based on current projections.
“We have a very, very large hole to fill for our children,” Inslee said. “We are not going to fill that hole by decreasing the safety net.”
Braun said the cost of new school programs might be closer to $750 million. Those programs should be covered first by any new revenue, with what’s left over used for non-education spending. Raises for school employees and state workers might have to wait, he added, just as workers in private companies are going without pay increases.