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Governor pitches supplemental ‘hold-steady’ budget for ’14

Warns of tough choices ahead

OLYMPIA - Gov. Jay Inslee yesterday, Tuesday, proposed what his office called modest adjustments to the state’s 2013–15 operating budget, primarily to cover mandatory cost increases and meet key obligations.

The governor’s supplemental budget also includes small, targeted investments aimed at continuing his Working Washington agenda to revitalize the state’s economy, create jobs and ensure a workforce with the knowledge and skills to fill those jobs.

Inslee noted that by sticking to a minimal supplemental budget, the state will be better positioned a year from now to begin tackling the significant fiscal challenges that loom in the 2015–17 biennium.

“The good news is, our economy continues its slow, steady recovery from the worst recession in generations,” Inslee said. “Unfortunately, the economy and our revenue collections are not growing fast enough to keep pace with the costs of maintaining current services, let alone provide the billions of dollars still needed to meet our court-mandated basic education obligations.”

He added, “This is a hold-steady budget that keeps us whole the remainder of the biennium, but we’ll have to make some tough decisions again next year. ”

 The bulk of the added $200 million spending in the governor’s supplemental budget covers a variety of mandatory cost increases, meets legal or contractual obligations and continues delivering services at current levels.

About one-third of those mandatory cost increases are driven by rising school enrollment and program caseloads. The budget also includes:

• $8 million to begin complying with a legal settlement requiring the state to significantly expand mental health services for children;

• $10 million to fund a collectively bargained rate increase for family home child care providers; and

• $11 million to cover wildfire costs, primarily those incurred this year.

 The budget also addresses several high-priority needs, such as almost $7 million to increase prison capacity, most of which will be used to open a medium-security unit at the Washington State Penitentiary.

It also funds key elements of the governor’s plan to invest in the state’s aerospace future and, ultimately, convince Boeing to assemble its new 777X jetliner — and the plane’s carbon fiber wing — here in Washington.

The governor is proposing several small but what he describes as important investments in education, such as $3 million for a new teacher mentoring program, $300,000 to develop new career and technical education curricula that will provide students multiple paths to meet math and science graduation requirements, and $250,000 for an early warning dropout prevention program.

The budget also makes targeted investments to enhance science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM education in the K-12 and community college systems.

Inslee urged the legislature to adopt the budget in timely fashion, noting that the state must soon turn its attention to the next biennial budget.

Barring an unforeseen increase in revenue collections, the state will face a sizable shortfall when work begins on the 2015–17 budget.

Besides having to patch holes left by the one-time fixes in the current budget and address a backlog of needs, the state must make another large investment — between $1 billion to $2 billion — toward meeting basic education obligations.

“We cannot — and will not — meet all these needs and obligations by cutting services to vulnerable children and adults, higher education and communities,” Inslee said. “I fully expect we’ll continue our rigorous discussion about closing tax loopholes and using those resources to fund our children’s education.”

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