[Guest Opinion Post By Senator Brad Hawkins, state senator for the 12th District. ]
The Washington State Legislature meets each January but alternates between longer sessions of 105 days in odd years and shorter sessions of 60 days in even years. This year, the Legislature will convene on January 9th for a 105-day session. The primary focus will be developing the operating, transportation, and capital budgets for the 2023-2025 biennium.
In addition to developing new state budgets, committees will conduct hearings and the Legislature will debate and update various laws. After two years of COVID pandemic “hybrid” sessions with only partial in-person activities, the upcoming session is expected to return to more standard operations. Here is a review of each of the state budgets, including their 2021-2023 approved amounts:
Operating budget ($64.1 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. With a budget of this size, there are always things to like and things to disapprove of. Despite the COVID pandemic, state revenues have been positive, with more dollars flowing into the state than previously projected.
The November 2022 revenue forecasts estimates approximately $66.2 for the 2023-2025 budget cycle. Overall, this revenue figure is still higher than previously projected, although uncertainty remains for how national economic factors, such as interest rates, gas prices, and inflation, will truly affect state revenues over the next two and four years.
Transportation budget ($12.2 billion)
The transportation budget funds the construction and maintenance of the state transportation system, including maintaining and preserving roads, bridges, and ferries. This budget also funds state agencies and commissions that serve our transportation system and numerous previously approved road projects based on their construction schedules.
Due to the lack of driving during the COVID pandemic, much of the gas tax revenues to the transportation budget were significantly less than in past years, but federal infrastructure legislation provided some enhanced funding for transportation. Last session, a new 16-year, $16.9 billion “Move Ahead Washington” transportation package was approved, primarily for maintenance of the existing system and some large-scale transportation projects. With this significant package approved, it is unlikely major new projects will be funded in 2023.
Capital budget ($7.8 billion)
The state capital budget funds the construction and maintenance of state buildings, public school matching grants, higher education facilities, public lands, parks, and other assets. Most sections of the capital budget include grant programs where governments apply for funding based on specific qualifications and matching funds. Other elements of the capital budget are more subjective. In recent years, the 12th District team has been able to generate big wins for our district through this budget. Unfortunately, the upcoming capital budget could be significantly strained due to inflationary factors and the rising costs of construction projects.
New changes to district boundaries
The Washington State Redistricting Commission’s new boundaries for our 49 legislative districts are in effect for the 2023 session. The new boundary for the 12th District includes East Wenatchee, Chelan County, and portions of Snohomish County (Index to Monroe) and King County (North Bend to Duvall).
Due to retirements and election wins, many districts have new legislators, surely to create new dynamics at the Capitol. The balance of power is similar to past years. There are 49 members of the State Senate (29 Democrats and 20 Republicans) and 98 members of the House of Representatives (58 Democrats and 40 Republicans). It will be interesting to see how the Legislature functions with the new lawmakers and their redesigned districts. Hopefully, the Legislature will adjourn by May with all three budgets approved.