Investing in Washington’s people and communities: Inslee budget prioritizes urgent needs in… – Medium

Today, Inslee released his 2024 supplemental budget proposals, which serve as a mid-way update to the state’s two-year 2023–25 budgets. His release precedes the start of the 60-day legislative session on January 8.

Heading into the new year, Washington’s overall economic health remains strong. Pandemic response funding is winding down, but new state revenues have kept pace with higher costs from inflation and entitlement caseload increases.

With modest state revenue gains expected, Inslee released a proposal that continues prioritizing urgent needs such as encampments, fentanyl treatment and behavioral health services.

“We are fortunate in Washington state to have a healthy economy that allows us to invest in our people and communities,” Inslee said. “That’s especially important as we wind down remaining pandemic funding and grapple with the lingering effects of the pandemic. Homelessness, fentanyl and behavioral health are stark examples of places we need to double down to meet the need.”

“This supplemental budget proposal builds on the critical behavioral health investments already begun — workforce development, infrastructure, treatment and recovery supports,” said Rep. Jamila Taylor. “And, these proposals also focus on prevention and early intervention, efforts that are proven to be effective.”

Gov. Jay Inslee with Sen. June Robinson and Rep. Jamila Taylor

Helping people move out of dangerous encampments

Inslee is proposing $100 million from the capital budget to continue funding for the Rapid Capital Housing Acquisition fund (RCHA). This fund, created in 2021, has allowed state agencies and local partners to quickly open new shelter and housing units and move more than 1,000 people out of encampments along state freeways. The new funding will support more than 1,200 units of housing.

Current funding levels will soon run out, leaving the state with limited options to transition people at remaining encampments. Additional funds will also support the Washington State Department of Transportation’s work to restore and secure sites after people have moved.

Fighting the fentanyl and opioid crisis

The governor’s budget proposes $64 million in new funding for fentanyl and opioid response to augment $200 million already in the current budget. The funding would support a continuum of prevention and treatment strategies. Inslee puts a particular focus on youth education and prevention and help for Tribal communities grappling with fatality rates that are quadruple the state average.

Among other things, Inslee’s budget would fund four new health engagement hubs — all-in-one locations where people struggling with substance abuse can access a range of social and medical services — by 2027, and allow for more treatment of people in jails and correctional facilities.

It also funds naloxone distribution for opioid overdoses to first responders and would stand up 20 “Smart Health Machines” statewide to be stocked with naloxone and other health supplies. The budget designates $2.7 million to multi-jurisdictional task forces that play a key role in addressing drug distribution.

Serving more patients in need of behavioral health care

The state is steadily making progress on opening and staffing new facilities that can treat the growing number patients in need of behavioral health services. More than 120 beds have opened at three state facilities in the past year, with opening of hundreds more beds underway. These facilities and several provisions in Inslee’s supplemental budget support the state’s ongoing efforts to address a lawsuit known as Trueblood.

Inslee’s budget funds 110 new beds at state-run facilities, including the purchase and operation of the newly-opened Olympic Heritage Behavioral Health facility in Tukwila which adds 72 beds for forensic services. The governor’s supplemental budget increases reimbursement rates for certain community-based providers and teams who help patients avoid admission to higher levels of care or transition from a state facility back to a community setting. Inslee also extends a diversion program launched in 2018 that serves people who would otherwise be in jail to await competency services.

Inslee also continues support for Washington’s nation-leading 988 Crisis Lifeline efforts. Efforts are underway to build the infrastructure to eventually allow 988 to dispatch crisis units or directly connect callers to local providers, even helping to schedule appointments. Inslee’s budget provides $21.2 million to support this work.

His total behavioral health package would add $464 million to the current $1 billion in the 2023–25 budget.

Supporting public safety and criminal investigations

The governor’s budget supports Washington State Patrol recruitment efforts by including funding to fill 80 trooper positions and adds a third trooper class to ensure training is available to additional cadets. To support WSP’s criminal investigations, Inslee proposes funding for two new forensic scientists who can process Rapid DNA samples. He also funds the new organized retail theft task force in the Attorney General’s Office.

In support of local law enforcement efforts, Inslee proposes $2.7 million for grants to support the work of multijurisdictional drug task forces that previously received federal Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funding. He also proposes $10 million for grants to local governments in support of local law enforcement recruitment and retention. Inslee’s budget also funds additional Corrections Officers Academy classes in eastern Washington to support recruitment of additional corrections officers in local jails.

Supporting educators and students

Funding for K-12 education in Washington has doubled in the past 10 years and remains the largest share of the state’s budget. Washington teachers are now among the best paid in the nation.

But more work remains to strengthen parts of the education system that are critical to student success. The governor proposes a $3 per hour average wage increase for the state’s 32,000 paraeducators, equal to an approximate 11% wage increase. He increases the special education funding cap up to 17.25%, which will provide an additional $17 million to help school districts serve students with special needs. The governor also includes support for paid teacher residencies to incentivize more teachers to earn their special education endorsement, particularly teachers of color and teachers from low-income communities.

Inslee visited Camelot Elementary School in Federal Way in November 2023

Putting Climate Commitment Act dollars to work

In the 2023 legislative session, legislators approved $2.1 billion of CCA investments in projects and programs that reduce harmful pollution and create clean energy jobs. CCA funding is being put to work in neighborhoods across Washington in the form of electric school buses, hybrid-electric ferries, free transit for youth, public EV chargers, heat pumps for low-income households, and more.

In his 2024 supplemental budget, Inslee detailed his proposal for the additional $900 million in projected CCA revenue for the biennium. This includes a proposal to offset rising oil prices with a $200 utility bill credit for residential electricity customers. About 750,000 low- and moderate-income households — one of every three utility customers — will qualify for the benefit.

Inslee also beefs up investments in heat pump installations for affordable multifamily housing, as well as funding for more EV charging stations along state highways. Forty-one percent of the funds are expected to benefit communities hit hardest by pollution and climate change.

Alongside a new King County Metro battery-electric bus, Inslee met with students who are taking advantage of free transit thanks to CCA funding.

The CCA will help more transit agencies go electric.

Boosting transportation budget investments in culverts and ferries

The most recent transportation package — the Move Ahead Washington package — included about $5.4 billion from the CCA over 16 years.

CCA funding is providing $1 billion for hybrid-electric ferries, safer bike and pedestrian routes, transit, high speed rail and other investments that serve Washington’s growing population with modern, reliable, clean options that don’t rely on ever-sprawling freeways.

Importantly, 14% of Move Ahead Washington went to the Washington Department of Transportation’s fish passage barrier efforts. The previous Connecting Washington package in 2015 only dedicated 2%.

The governor proposes an additional $150 million in the supplemental budget to further support that culvert work, while state leaders determine a long-term solution to a multi-billion dollar funding gap.

The governor is also supporting several efforts to improve Washington State Ferries’ ability to provide reliable, on-time ferry service. He proposes funding to support the hiring of more licensed deck officers. His budget funds 48 additional spots in the AB to Mate program so more ferry workers can fill those spots, and doubles the number of slots available to out-of-state mariners. He also funds additional staffing for each vessel to prevent missed sailings.

And because it will take time to build the five new ferries funded in the current budget, Inslee directs WSDOT to assess options for the state to resume passenger-only service, particularly in the San Juan Islands.

Detailed budget information and highlights are available from the Office of Financial Management.

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