Newsletter: What’s in the 2020 Senate Democrat supplemental operating budget?

Floor Action Alert: Earlier today, Senate Democrats voted NO on my amendment to the supplemental operating budget. It would have given some of the $2.4 billion surplus to you in the form of property tax relief!

Senate Democrat supplemental operating budget:

Ignoring opportunities and putting government first

With the recent announcement that the state could expect an additional $1.5 billion in extraordinary revenue, bringing the total to $2.4 billion over four years, the Legislature has the opportunity to give the people what they want — $30 car tabs and property tax relief.

 

Unfortunately, the budget, which passed off the Senate floor this week, ignores that opportunity and provides no meaningful tax relief for the average Washingtonian.

 

No $30 car-tab fees. No property tax relief. And the money appropriated to increase Medicaid reimbursements to skilled-nursing facilities will not stop the closures threatening the care of our elderly population.

 

Even the money the budget allocates to help the homeless has limited focus. The surplus should have allowed us to not only provide some additional temporary housing, but also to increase substance-abuse treatment, mental-health treatment, job training and public-safety improvements. Homelessness is a complex problem. My colleagues and I introduced legislation this year as part of a comprehensive homelessness response. But this budget only scratches the surface.

 

Here are some important facts about the Senate supplemental operating budget:

  • Represents nearly 20-percent growth in state spending, which is the highest in 30 years
  • Increases spending $1.1 billion in this biennium alone
  • Spreads the extra revenue thinly across various agencies, providing no substantive help to anyone
  • Spends the $2.4 billion surplus down to $0
  • Contains 13 different tax increases, raising $26 billion over 10 years
  • Puts $100 million into a “climate resiliency” account, but without any current guidelines for how the money will be spent

 

If this budget becomes law, it will mean that the rate of government spending during the current administration will hit twice the rate of wage growth in Washington. Outside of King County, where wage growth is slower, it represents an even wider gap. (See chart above.)

 

What are some good things that are included in the Senate’s supplemental operating budget? (The items in red result from legislation I sponsored.)

 

  • $24 million per biennia for skilled-nursing facilities (see below)
  • $13 million to exempt behavioral health providers from the business tax increase
  • Expands postpartum Medicaid coverage to one year after delivery
  • Increases Medicaid rates for primary care providers
  • $50 million in additional funding for improvements benefiting individuals with developmental disabilities, including eliminating the waiting list for services
  • $100 million to construct a behavioral-health hospital at the University of Washington
  • $38 million to increase staffing at Western State Mental Hospital

 

In the end, the supplemental operating budget that becomes law likely will be a combination of this budget with the House version. I’ll update you when I know more about how this final product will look. You can read more about what’s in the budget here.

 

Alert: Earlier today, Senate Democrats voted NO on an amendment to the supplemental operating budget I offered that would have given some of the $2.4 billion surplus to you in the form of property tax relief!

 

Taking medicine

Senate budget leaves skilled-nursing facilities with dangerous shortfall

 

The 2020 supplemental operating budget the Senate passed off the floor this week would increase state spending by nearly 20 percent. But it allocates only $24 million per biennia to increase Medicaid reimbursements to our skilled-nursing facilities that provide the higher level of care that many in our elderly population need.

 

Medicaid rates underfund nursing facilities by $116 million per year, according to the Aging and Long-Term Support Division of DSHS. This is entirely unnecessary because the budget could use part of the $2.4 billion revenue surplus to pay for adequate Medicaid reimbursements in their entirety.

 

In the past nine years, more than 30 Washington nursing homes have closed, two-thirds of which have been in the last three years alone. This translates into the closure of 10 percent of Washington’s skilled nursing facilities and a loss of nearly 1,100 beds.

 

This legislative session, I sponsored Senate Bill 6396 to increase reimbursements and to require that rates be updated annually to keep up with inflation.

 

While I’m glad to see that the essence of my bill is included in the budget, I’m disappointed that it falls so far short. We simply can’t afford to lose any more of these needed facilities, especially as our elderly population grows. This budget may do nothing more than postpone more closures by a few months.

 

Skilled-nursing facilities in Washington, and the seniors they care for, would have been a lot better off under my bill. We already see that there aren’t enough facilities left to provide the level of care many of our elderly need. Only 6 percent of those in nursing homes are considered ‘low-care.’ And, we expect we will need to double the number of beds by 2035.

 

Betsy, a resident at a skilled-nursing facility in our district who has had to relocate after a sudden facility closure, told me the experience is profoundly troubling and is resulting in, “a lot of older people suffering needlessly. For what?”

 

And I fear that the assistance provided in the Senate budget is too little, too late to help people like Betsy.

 

Senate transportation budget

 

The Senate also released its 2020 supplemental transportation budget this week. I’m pleased to report that if the bipartisan Senate transportation budget becomes law, no highway projects will be reduced or delayed as a result of revenue reductions from I-976 and no highway projects will need to be paused this biennium.

 

Governor Inslee has the ability to take all highway, local, rail and public transportation projects off of the pause and delay lists that he created to punish voters for passing I-976. And he should do so immediately.

 

Despite that overwhelming vote to pass $30 car-tab fees, the courts are requiring that the full inflated amount continue to be collected. I will be offering an amendment to the budget that would return those improperly collected state funds to taxpayers, regardless of what the courts decide.

 

Why? Because you demanded it through your vote and we work for you.

 

One notably great thing for Pierce County included in this budget is an advance of nearly $12 million for Pierce Transit’s SR-7 Bus Rapid Transit line, which assists the project in applying for federal grant funding. I support Bus Rapid Transit in Pierce County as an alternative to the Sound Transit light rail project known as ST3. It’s a much better alternative that more Pierce County residents will actually use.

 

More on this budget as it moves through the legislative process. You can read more about what’s in the Senate transportation budget here.

 


The presidential primary:

“Why do I have to declare my party affiliation on the OUTSIDE of my ballot envelope?”

 

That’s the most common question I’m hearing from constituents who are calling and writing my office right now. Rightly so, many of you have concerns about the requirement to declare an affiliation with either the Republican or Democrat parties on the outside of the envelope for the presidential primary ballot.

 

We looked into the issue more deeply so that we could explain the reasoning behind the process.

 

Currently, the oath you sign when you send in your ballot has to accompany the name and registration information. It legally can’t be on the ballot or the security envelope because elections staff can’t be allowed to see your name and your ballot at the same time. Instead, the oath and the party declaration are on the outside of the envelope so the privacy of the ballot itself is protected.

 

I know many have concerns about their personal information being on the mailing envelope, visible to the mail carrier and others. I understand your concerns. As I understand it, the best way to move forward would be to require an additional envelope, within the mailing envelope, be used for the oath, name and party declaration.

 

One other important thing to mention is that declaring a party in the primary does not prevent you from voting for whichever candidate you choose in the general election.

 

If you have additional questions or comments, you can contact the Office of the Secretary of State.

 

 

This week’s Senate pages: Simren Khan and Jackson Hallett

 

This week, I sponsored two pages.

Senate Page Simren Khan – Feb. 26, 2020

Simren Khan, 15, of Tacoma is a 10th grader at Annie Wright Schools. Simren is a member of Model United Nations and the HOSA Club, which is an international student organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. She is a smart young adult, and I hope her experience as a Senate page was valuable to her, especially given her interest in politics. It was a pleasure sponsoring Simren!

 

Senate Page Jackson Hallett – Feb. 26, 2020

Jackson Hallett, 14, from DuPont is an 8th grader at St. Frances Cabrini. He likes snowboarding, hiking and baseball. He’s also his school’s student council president, a Boy Scout senior patrol leader, competes on the swim team and plays on the middle school band. It’s great to see such motivated young people with so much enthusiasm for their school and community. I’m glad he as able to add ‘Senate page’ to his list of achievements!

 

Students interested in the Senate Page Program are encouraged to visit: http://leg.wa.gov/Senate/Administration/PageProgram/