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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Inslee's Budget Wish List: More Money For Schools And A Carbon Tax

Austin Jenkins/Northwest News Network
Washington Governor Jay Inslee announcing his supplemental budget proposal

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday rolled out his proposal for an update to the state’s two-year, $43 billion budget. Here are the top five items on the governor’s budget wish list:

1. The current state budget puts $1.8 billion more into public schools over the next two years. Inslee’s proposed supplemental budget would add another $950 million to ensure full funding of basic education by September 2018. That’s because in November, the Washington Supreme Court issued a unanimous order in the McCleary school funding case that said the state is not on track to constitutionally fund public schools by a court-imposed deadline of September 1, 2018. The court said the shortfall is about $1 billion, mostly to fund teacher and staff salaries. Inslee would fill that gap with money from the state’s reserves. Currently, the state is in contempt of court and accruing a $100,000-a-day fine. The court indicated that it’s prepared to impose a tougher sanction next spring if the state doesn’t act to fully fund schools by the deadline.

2. In order to replenish state reserves and establish a new source of revenue into the future, the governor is reprising his proposal for a state carbon tax. Under the governor’s proposal, the first $1.5 billion in carbon tax revenues would be dedicated to replacing the dollars taken from state reserves to pay for McCleary. Inslee would use future carbon revenues to help the state make a transition to clean energy.

3. After education, Inslee’s proposed budget prioritizes mental health. The current budget puts $180 million more into shoring up the state’s beleaguered mental health system. But that was only half of what the governor proposed for mental health in 2016. Now he wants to add $206 million more to cover higher costs at state hospitals, expand community-based treatment options and hire more staff at troubled Western State Hospital. One of the challenges at Western State is that there’s a bottleneck of patients who are ready to be released but who have nowhere to go in the community. That, in turn, creates a bed shortage at the hospital, resulting in patients being “boarded” in regular hospitals, which the courts have previously said is unconstitutional.

4. Inslee says the current state budget makes unrealistic assumptions about how much money the state’s Medicaid program can save without cutting services. As a result, he’s requesting an additional $162 million to cover “anticipated shortfalls” in the Medicaid program and avoid cuts to care.

5. The governor is also requesting millions of dollars to “plug holes” in the current budget. That list includes $25 million for the higher-than-budgeted cost of recent wildfires.

Inslee is also calling on state lawmakers to pass the $4.5 billion capital construction budget that didn’t pass in 2017. That budget has bipartisan support, but was caught up in a partisan fight over how to address a Supreme Court ruling that restricts non-permitted wells on private property in many parts of the state.

Overall, Inslee’s proposal would boost state spending in the current two-year budget to $44.5 billion and leave $2.1 billion in reserves, assuming the implementation of the carbon tax.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."