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Inslee's 2024 budget pitch would boost WA spending on climate, behavioral health, housing

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced his 2024 climate agenda in Seattle Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, with a crowd of supporters present to show their support for the state's Climate Commitment Act.
Jeanie Lindsay
NW News Network
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced his 2024 climate agenda in Seattle Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, with a crowd of supporters present to show their support for the state's Climate Commitment Act.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled his vision for new state spending this week ahead of the 2024 legislative session. The bulk of the governor's budget proposal is earmarked for climate projects, behavioral health, homelessness, and schools. It acts as a starting point for lawmakers as they consider changes to the state's current two-year spending plan during the next legislative session, which starts in January.

Inslee wants to add about $2.5 billion in spending to the state's current budget, to maintain existing programs and give others a new infusion of cash.

Officials anticipate the state's general revenue will continue to go up enough to pay for the growing demand of existing services even as the cost of those services increase. Meanwhile, the new capital gains tax and revenue from the Climate Commitment Act brought in more money than initially expected this year, paving the way for more substantial new investments in school construction and various decarbonization and clean energy programs.

Some Democratic lawmakers have praised the plan for continuing to push forward on key priorities, while Republicans are criticizing it for increasing spending and not providing tax relief.

Here's some of what the governor is proposing:

On Climate

At an event in Seattle Monday, Inslee announced that he's asking the Legislature to use roughly $900 million of Climate Commitment Act money to pay for various projects.

A significant chunk of Inslee's proposed new climate spending would go toward environmental justice programs to increase the number of electric school buses in the state, improve schools' air quality and support neighborhood clean energy projects. The governor is also requesting $150 million to provide thousands of Washingtonians a one-time $200 credit to help pay their electric bills.

Electric ferries, salmon recovery and storm water treatment, and adding more electric vehicle charging stations along the state's busiest roads are also on his priority list. Inslee's proposal also focuses on matching federal dollars to create more infrastructure for "green" jobs, getting more heat pumps in affordable housing, and making buildings on college campuses more energy efficient.

Inslee's proposed climate spending would primarily be funded by the state's new carbon emissions auctions that began this year after lawmakers created the program with the 2021 Climate Commitment Act. The carbon emissions program has been the target of opposition groups that blame it for driving up gas prices.

"The folks who want to repeal the Climate Commitment Act will send a torpedo into the hull of the economy of the state of Washington," Inslee said.

Lawmakers decided how to spend more than $2 billion of Climate Commitment Act funding when it passed the state's two-year budget earlier this year. Much of it went toward clean transportation and building projects. If Inslee gets his way and lawmakers fully fund his 2024 climate plans, that would bring the state's total climate spending from the carbon auctions to $3 billion this year and next.

The governor is also homing in on a few new climate policies, including one that aims to create more oversight for oil companies and their profits. It comes after a lot of consternation about gas prices this year. Washington's average cost of a gallon of fuel topped the nation this summer before going back down this fall.

As officials explore linking the state's carbon market with California and Quebec's, lawmakers will also consider legislation that will prime the carbon emissions market to do so. But officials say even if Washington does move forward with it, the earliest it could begin operating in a linked auction market is likely 2025.

For Behavioral Health

Inslee is proposing the state spend another $464 million on behavioral health over the next two years, to increase capacity at state-run hospitals and offer community providers more funding support.

Inslee says his proposal lays out what's needed to ensure the state has enough mental health resources as demand for them continues to rise.

"And we figured out all we could do: build all the buildings, buy all the buildings, staff all the positions as fast as we could and then we assigned a number that it would take to get that job done," Inslee said.

Part of Inslee's behavioral health priorities include improving access to services for youth, and ensuring that staffing needs are met in state-run facilities.

Other Highlights

The budget pitch also includes a request for another $140 million on housing and homelessness, mostly aimed at converting more buildings into shelters and providing support for people living in encampments.

"We are providing these services so they don't just come to us for 30 days and then go right back out on the street – that costs oodles of money," Inslee said Wednesday.

Inslee is also asking lawmakers to spend another $64 million on combating the opioid epidemic, with an emphasis on tribal communities. The proposal tags $35 million specifically for opioid treatment in communities, prisons, and jails across the state.

Paraeducators – classroom support staff who often aid students with unique needs – would also see their pay go up by $3 an hour under Inslee's plan, and the limit on how much special education funding school districts receive from the state would also be increased.

But it's ultimately the Legislature that decides how to adjust the state's budget. Some state lawmakers at a press conference Wednesday shared their support for Inslee's proposal, including the new Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair, June Robinson (D-Everett).

"I'm looking forward to the 2024 legislative session to continue the work of making strategic investments based on what the governor has presented here today in the areas that are most critical and staying on the course that we as Democrats have set over the past few years," Robinson said.

Rep. Jamila Taylor (D-Federal Way) said the governor's plan will help "save lives" for its focus on substance use and behavioral health, and suggested the state could go even further.

"We must do better for our friends, we must do better for our families, we must do better for our neighbors, and this is what I believe the governor's proposal will do – and we must do more," Taylor said.

Meanwhile, key Republicans who work on budget issues also reacted to Inslee's spending plan later Wednesday.

Sen. Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver) said the plan is "worrisome" for continuing to increase state spending, and called out Inslee's electric bill credit proposal specifically.

"This new voucher proposal is a tacit acknowledgement of the burden the governor’s misguided and misleading policies have placed on the people of Washington,” Wilson said in a statement.

Still, she said she was pleased with the governor's request to set aside $10 million to help local governments recruit law enforcement officers, and wants the Legislature to add even more funding toward that effort in the final version of the budget.
Copyright 2023 Northwest News Network. To see more, visit Northwest News Network.

Jeanie Lindsay is a state government reporter for the NW News Network. She previously covered education for The Seattle Times and Indiana Public Broadcasting.