LOCAL NEWS

As legislative session ends, Gov. Inslee applauds victories on transportation, homelessness

Mar 10, 2022, 6:01 PM | Updated: Mar 11, 2022, 6:14 am
Inslee...
Washington National Guard and State Patrol members surround the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. (File photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(File photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Governor Jay Inslee is praising state lawmakers after the Washington State Legislature approved a historic two-year, supplemental $64.1 billion spending plan that makes key investments in some of the governor’s biggest priorities.

Ahead of final passage, Inslee’s staff acknowledged that “this was a difficult, short session that required difficult choices. Sixty days isn’t much time to tackle large issues, but the governor applauds the Legislature for passing a landmark transportation package, adding to our already historic investments in climate action, and combatting homelessness.”

“While some policy bills didn’t make it this year, the governor’s priorities are reflected in the budgets, and it’s clear there’s intense interest in continuing the policy work on housing, salmon, and climate,” said an Inslee spokesperson.

Homelessness

One of the big priorities for Inslee this session was an $800 million proposed investment to address homelessness. While lawmakers did not include all of those investments, the governor noted lawmakers included much of the $800 million he proposed in their operating and capital budgets.

That includes over $50 million to transition people living in unsanctioned encampments on the public right of way to permanent housing, and to work with local governments and social service organizations to clean up encampment sites along highways.

While the bill for the policy tied to that investment technically died, Inslee says the separate budget investments should at least help in the short term.

Health care

The governor’s office also pointed to over $21 million included in the budgets to expand behavioral health services.

Inslee’s office said the budget provided investments for critical support to children and youth in need of behavioral health services, noting it significantly increases our state’s capacity for children’s long-term inpatient beds – bumping the 37 funded currently to 82 beds total by 2024 – and providing important community-based supports such as school-based health centers, youth behavioral health navigators, and youth suicide prevention.

The budget makes substantial investments in boosting the state’s health care workforce, especially among nurses, nursing assistants, and medical assistants. That includes a significant rate increase for behavioral health providers and $100 million in provider relief money to support the behavioral health workforce. Gov. Inslee noted that funding was desperately needed to address the shortages in the state’s health care system, behavioral health, and long-term care workforce.

Also on the health care front, ongoing COVID funding was used to continue efforts related to vaccinations, testing, and monitoring disease and variant activity. The dollars also provide local health departments with funds to operate community-level COVID activities. Additional funding was included to support more capacity in long-term care facilities to relieve strain on hospital capacity.

Staff say the governor also celebrated the increase to affordable health coverage through a program for low-income immigrants who do not otherwise have access to health insurance but will now have access to a Medicaid-like program that offers high quality, affordable coverage.

Education

Gov. Inslee was also happy to see the investments in education that will boost the number of counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers available to K-12 students in the state.

Inslee’s staff says the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us these investments are needed now more than ever, and the governor appreciates the Legislature’s attention to these challenges.

Climate and transportation

There was mixed reaction on two of Gov. Inslee’s key issues: climate change and clean energy.

“There’s no doubt the passage of the most climate-friendly transportation revenue package in our state’s history is a top storyline for this session. This is a transformational, once-in-a-generation feat that represents an understanding that a cleaner transportation system goes hand-in-hand with our climate efforts,” a spokesperson said.

Part of that was done using funds raised through the Climate Commitment Act, the governor’s cap-and-invest program passed by the Legislature in 2021.

“This package would not have been possible without the leadership of House and Senate transportation chairs Jake Fey and Marko Liias,” Inslee’s staff noted.

There were also wins with historic investments in hybrid-electric ferries, zero-emission buses, electric vehicle infrastructure, and projects to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Combined with the operating budget, this package is part of a more than $1 billion investment over the next few years to ensure the state is ready to transition to zero-emission vehicles.

The transportation revenue package also delivers major climate wins by enabling spending of the revenues from the Climate Commitment Act of 2021, as well as the ability to move forward on 2021’s clean fuel standard.

Governor Inslee’s climate package this year was designed to build the clean energy future in Washington, creating good jobs and clean energy technologies while protecting the environment and our communities, according to his team.

On that clean energy front, lawmakers approved the governor’s bill to improve the state’s process for permitting clean energy. They also adopted tax incentives championed by the governor for clean energy manufacturing, tied to the strong labor standards first developed under the Clean Energy Transformation Act.

Lawmakers also included the governor’s request for additional solar funding, and therein will budget more than $170 million over the next several years.

Failed policy initiatives

While the governor celebrated many victories in this session, he also noted there were disappointments.

He pointed to critical pieces of the path to net-zero emissions not moving forward this session and said the Legislature must do more to address greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, the state’s second-largest emitter.

“We remain committed to strengthening building codes, requiring new buildings to maximize efficiency while minimizing emissions, and giving all Washingtonians the opportunity to transition off fossil fuels,” a spokesperson said.

There were also some wins on salmon as the budget will include over $200 million in salmon habitat restoration and recovery efforts, which Inslee’s staff called a significant and necessary investment, given the political inertia that kept legislators from acting on Lorraine Loomis Act.

Despite the death of that particular bill, the transportation package does include $2 billion for culverts.

“While the budget provides direct relief to Washingtonians and new spending on critical projects serving the public, it also puts the state on the path to rebuilding reserve funds over the next several years to pre-pandemic levels,” a spokesperson said.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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As legislative session ends, Gov. Inslee applauds victories on transportation, homelessness