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How Can State Lawmakers Craft Budget for WA Working Class?

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019   

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state's long legislative session is around the corner, and budget concerns will be at the forefront.

Misha Werschkul, executive director of the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, said she expects movement on fiscal policies she sees as key to working-class Washingtonians. She said the state needs to invest more in early learning - increasing options for kids age five and younger, and properly compensating educators.

Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed investing more than $170 million in early learning over the next two years. Werschkul thinks mental health funding should be another priority.

"We know that over the last many years, there's been a significant under-funding of mental health services,” Werschkul said. “And this year, one of the things that's going to be really important for the Legislature to look at is what is the funding level, both for those institutional settings like Western State Hospital, but also, how are we meeting people's needs in the community?"

Inslee has proposed replacing Western State Hospital and also investing $675 million in the upcoming biennium. The governor's budget relies on an increase in the capital-gains tax.

Republicans strongly oppose this proposal, saying it's an unconstitutional tax on income and it would hurt small businesses. Democrats come into the session with majorities in both chambers.

Werschkul said the state needs to address tax revenue collection, too. A recent report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy called the Evergreen State's tax system the most regressive in the nation.

Werschkul said many Washingtonians she's talked with feel they're falling behind financially. She believes that's due in part to the hidden costs of the state's upside-down tax system.

"This session is a real opportunity for legislators to show that they're going to put the well-being of middle- and lower-income families at the forefront, and really do something to help people meet their basic needs,” she said.

Lawmakers head back to Olympia on January 14.


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