Legislative Session Recap: Budget updates and initiatives highlight a fast-paced 60-day session

[Guest Opinion Post by Sen. Brad Hawkins]

The Legislature adjourned its 60-day session on March 7 as scheduled. The session was a busy time as I continued as the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee’s Ranking Member. This session was fast paced in all matters, especially for education issues.

The Legislature approved all three budget updates for the 2023-25 biennium, which ends June 30, 2025. The updated operating, transportation, and capital budgets were finalized in the final days of the session after much negotiation. I voted against the updated operating budget but for the transportation and capital budget updates. Here are some noteworthy items:

Operating Budget ($71.9 billion)

The operating budget funds the day-to-day operations of the state, including early learning, K-12 education, higher education, health and human services, criminal justice, natural resources, courts, and other areas. State revenues have remained slightly positive, although less growth is anticipated in the coming years. The updated operating budget is now projected to spend $71.9 billion during the 2023-25 biennium. I voted against the budget update because I have concerns about its sustainability if future revenues slow down or decrease.

Transportation Budget ($14.6 billion)

The transportation budget funds the construction and maintenance of the state’s transportation system, including the preservation of roads, bridges, and ferries. This budget also funds state agencies and commissions that serve our transportation system, including the Washington State Patrol, the Department of Licensing, and the Department of Transportation. Numerous previously approved road projects are funded based on construction schedules. I voted for the budget update because it essentially continues current projects.

Capital Budget ($10.3 billion)

The capital budget funds improvements to state buildings, public schools, higher education facilities, public lands, state parks, and other assets. This year’s budget update was helpful to our region and placed a focus on K-12 school facilities. It includes $14.5 million for the Wenatchee Valley Technical Skills Center, $1.3 million for affordable housing in Leavenworth, $300,000 for Regional Sports Complex Site Evaluation, and other projects. I voted for the budget update.

My Senate Bill 5670 Approved

Running Start is a “dual credit” program, first created in the 1990s, to allow students to earn tuition-free college credits while in high school. My Senate Bill 5670 expands Running Start by allowing students who have completed 10th grade but haven’t yet started 11th grade to earn up to 10 credits during the summer. This option will ease students into their Running Start experience and help them gain familiarity with their college campus. I call my bill a “Walking Start to Running Start.”

Initiatives to the Legislature: Lawmakers received six initiatives to the Legislature from signatures gathered in 2023, related to the capital gains tax, climate commitment act, long-term care, police pursuits, income tax, and parental rights in education. The legislature approved the police pursuits, income tax, and parental rights initiatives. The remaining initiatives (repealing the capital gains tax, climate commitment act, and long-term care program) were not considered and will advance directly to a statewide vote this November.

K-12 Education Funding:  Many school districts have struggled with increasing insurance, utilities, and special education costs. Last year, the legislature enhanced special education funding. We took another step forward this session. We also provided support for Materials Supplies and Operating Costs (MSOC) and paraeducator staffing. The Legislature also expanded school bond grant funding for school facilities within its bipartisan capital budget, which could benefit many school districts.

Transportation Cost Escalations: The legislature approved a 16-year, $17 billion transportation investment plan in 2022 called “Move Ahead Washington.” Since its approval, several major transportation projects have experienced cost escalations due to recent inflation. Legislators approved steps this session to resolve some funding shortfalls and are deferring other decisions until the next session. Continuing with the projects now will result in significant savings later.

Honoring State Champion Mt. Si Girls Cross Country Team

I was honored to host Coach Steve Crane and the 4A State Champion Mt. Si High School Girls Cross Country Team. It was awesome to have the team at the State Capitol along with supporters from North Bend, including Mayor Mary Miller and representatives from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. Senator Mullet and I co-sponsored a Senate Resolution honoring them.

Looking ahead to the next session

The state Legislature meets annually every January. With the three budgets approved and updated for the 2023-2025 biennium, lawmakers will not likely meet again in session until January 2025. The Legislature’s makeup could be different depending on new members taking office.

If you have any questions, please contact me at senatorbradhawkins.org or call our Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your state senator.

~Brad Hawkins serves as State Senator for the 12th District.

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