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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Teacher raises, mental health salaries in House Democratic budget

OLYMPIA – House Democrats want to give raises to starting teachers and the staff at state mental hospitals, as well as take money out of reserves to pay for last year’s wildfires.

An update to the 2015-17 state budget released Monday would address what House Democrats see as a series of crises facing Washington.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said public schools throughout Washington face a shortage of teachers and state mental health facilities have trouble filling openings because they aren’t paying competitive wages. Homelessness also is rising around the state, he said, and schools have more than 35,000 students who are listed as homeless.

Under the state’s budget process, the Legislature approved a two-year budget last year, and this year’s short session only will adjust or “supplement” that more extensive document. Some lawmakers have even said they could leave without making any changes, but Dunshee dismissed that.

“This is not a year just to relax and get out of town,” he said.

The state needs to spend an extra $219 million on existing programs that are serving more people or have higher costs, Democrats said. It should spend another $247 million on emergencies like recruiting more teachers and improving mental health care.

To pay for their proposed increases, House Democrats would close six tax breaks worth about $119 million, most of which have been tried in the past but have either failed in the Legislature or with voters. They would also tap the state’s Rainy Day Fund for $190 million to pay for fighting last year’s fires, $149 million for public school construction and set aside $90 million for a scheduled change in the local property tax levies that could hurt many local school districts.

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