State Legislature to develop budgets for 2021-2023

By Sen. Brad Hawkins

Top graph - Growth in state operating budget Bottom Photo - The new Goodwin Road bridge was substantially funded through a state grant. It is slated for completion in 2021.

The major focus of the current legislative session is to develop and approve budgets for the 2021-2023 biennium. Our state budgets on a two-year basis and approves all three of its budgets (operating, transportation, and capital) in the odd-numbered years, such as 2021. The current state budgets cover the 2019-2021 biennium, which ends on June 30, 2021. All three budgets usually receive approval in the final stages of the legislative session in April.

Washington state budget development

The state budgets are separate bills that need approval by the full Legislature before being delivered to the governor, similar to any other legislative proposal. Usually, the House and Senate each propose and approve their own versions of the three budgets and advance these proposals to the other chamber for consideration. These budget proposals are often compared with the governor’s proposal. The two chambers then appoint their respective budget negotiators to discuss the differences between the budgets and come together on a final document for approval by the Legislature and governor.

Operating budget ($54.2 billion for 2019-2021 – a 19.4% increase)

The operating budget funds the day-to-day operations of the state, including early learning, K-12 education, higher education, health and human services, criminal justice, natural resources, and other areas.  Balancing the operating budget could be a challenge this year. As a result of past increased spending and reduced revenue, state economists are forecasting a projected budget deficit of nearly $3 billion. While the most recent projected deficit is certainly bad news, the $3 billion figure is actually based on a four-year budget projection, impacting a four-year figure equivalent of over $100 billion. By utilizing the state’s $2 billion Budget Stabilization Account – often referred to as the “rainy day fund” – and making some measured and modest reductions in programs, I believe lawmakers can achieve a balanced budget without tax increases. Others may use the revenue losses from the pandemic in an effort to justify increased revenues. Legislators will probably authorize the use of the Budget Stabilization Account with little disagreement. The big divide will be over whether to choose budget reductions or new taxes to make up the remaining difference.

Transportation budget ($10.5 billion for 2019-2021)

The transportation budget funds the construction and maintenance of the state transportation system, including the maintenance and preservation of roads, bridges, and ferries. This budget also funds the state agencies and commissions that serve our transportation system, including the Washington State Patrol, Department of Licensing, Department of Transportation, Washington Traffic Safety Commission, County Road Administration Board, Transportation Improvement Board, Transportation Commission, and Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board. The budget also funds numerous previously approved road projects based on their construction schedules. The transportation budget also has its challenges. While the recent Initiative 976 was overturned by the state Supreme Court and will not impact transportation revenues, another court case involving fish-blocking transportation culverts will likely force the state to invest billions of dollars to fix them. It is unclear whether resolving this issue will impact current transportation projects, but it will likely affect future investments in transportation.

Capital budget ($5 billion for 2019-2021)

The state capital budget funds the construction and maintenance of state buildings, public schools matching grants, higher education facilities, public lands, parks, and other assets. Over the years, several local projects have been funded in the capital budget. In recent years, the 12th District team has been able to generate big wins for our region through this budget, including the replacement of key infrastructure following tragic wildfires, the expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities that improve our economy and quality of life, and enhancements to key community response systems. Our legislative team has been able to leverage the capital budget in the past several months and years to successfully fund many of our regional priorities, including the Wells Hall replacement for Wenatchee Valley College, Chelan County Emergency Operations Center, Twisp Civic Building, Winthrop Library, Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, Wenatchi Landing sewer extension, Saddle Rock soil remediation, and a variety of recreation and park facility improvements.

Sen. Brad Hawkins serves the 12th Legislative District, which covers much of North Central Washington.

 

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