Friends and Neighbors,
It is frustrating that the Legislature concluded the 60-day session without reaching an agreement on a supplemental operating budget. It is even more disappointing given the strong bipartisan 2015-2017 operating, transportation, and capital budgets approved just last year.
Special session called by governor
As expected, Gov. Inslee called an immediate special session. He then proceeded to veto 27 of 37 Republican and Democratic sponsored Senate bills on his desk because a supplemental operating budget had not been passed by the final day of the session.
Leaders do not punish, they look for solutions. Arguably, it is our citizens who are being punished by this move – after all, they are the reason we introduced and passed these bills. Previous governors would have brought the opposing sides together and acted as a facilitator in order to produce a compromise. This move has done more to unite legislators against the governor's actions than to unite them toward budget solutions, and angered the many stakeholders who labored enormous working hours in order to get these bills through the process. Unfortunately, his decision is not helping the budget negotiations.
What is a supplemental budget?
Supplemental budgets should propose minor modifications for unanticipated financial needs of programs, agencies, or to help with emergencies. They correct technical errors in appropriations, and pay for events like the wildfires that took place in 2015 – costs we could not anticipate when we wrote the original budget last year. In order to pass a supplemental operating budget, the House, Senate, and Governor must all agree on the same document. Both the House and the Senate have approved proposals, but which have different spending priorities.
The House proposal would transfer nearly $470 million from the Budget Stabilization Account. This account, called the “rainy day fund,” was approved by the voters in 2007. It grows as the state experiences high revenue increases during good economic times. These funds are to be used primarily for emergencies, and are our state's safety net in the event of an economic downturn.
While $190 million was proposed for wildfire reimbursement spending, the remaining expenditures, $280 million, would be for new policies. As I shared on a previous update, I voted “no” on this budget. Other states are already experiencing recession-like economic activity. Rather than spend every dime we have now, we need to be prudent with your tax dollars so that critical state services are not put at risk in future years. More “rainy days” are coming.
A true supplemental budget is needed
We need a true supplemental budget that makes only midcourse adjustments to the already approved two-year budget, that funds policies to prevent and respond to wildfires, and which is committed to our 4-year balanced budget outlook – not one that raises taxes or adds programs.
The original supplemental operating budget passed by the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus actually reduces policy spending, doesn't raise taxes, and most importantly – does not touch the “rainy day fund.”
In the coming days
There is no reason we cannot reach an agreement. Earlier today, the Senate released a new proposal in the hopes of moving us closer to a compromise. Regrettably, the governor has not ruled out more vetoes. As negotiators continue to meet, it is my hope they will reach agreement so we can adjourn – and you can know what to expect from your government for the remainder of this year.