Approved supplemental state budget criticized for vetoes by Inslee

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee signed a supplemental budget Monday that steers more dollars into staffing at Western State Hospital and services for the homeless while paying the tab for last year’s devastating wildfires.

Inslee also highlighted its modest increases in funding for teacher training and assisting foster children but stressed the real challenge is coming 2017 when the state must come up with several billion dollars to comply with McCleary school fund lawsuit.

But Inslee did veto several provisions that didn’t sit well with a Republican budget writer in the GOP-led Senate.

“We had a balanced budget. He vetoed it. It’s now out of whack,” said Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

What Inslee signed Monday revises the two-year, $38.2 billion budget enacted last year. It spans 352 pages and took the Democrat-controlled House and Republican-led Senate a regular session and 20 days of special session to hammer out.

It will increase state spending from the general fund by $211 million through June 30, 2017. And it spends another $189.5 million out of an emergency reserve fund known as the Budget Stabilization Account to cover the cost of last year’s wildfires.

There’s $41 million for mental health services including money to boost staffing and security at Western State Hospital, the psychiatric hospital where two patients, including a man convicted of killing a Lake Stevens woman, escaped earlier this month. Both were recaptured.

There’s almost $15 million for helping projects that address homelessness, and around $7 million for recruiting new public school teachers and retaining existing ones.

And it has $580,000 for Washington State University to offer its Organic Agriculture Systems degree program at WSU North Puget Sound on the campus of Everett Community College. The degree, now offered on the main campus in Pullman, was the first of its kind in the nation.

What riled up Republicans Monday is they contend Inslee’s vetoes leave the state without a balanced budget through mid-2019. The chief reason is Inslee vetoed a proviso to shift $160 million away from public works projects and into the general fund. That money provided the four-year balance, they said.

“Frankly, I am angry because irresponsible budgets inevitably lead to cuts in education,” Hill said.

Inslee offered a different perspective to reporters.

“The budget is as balanced as the people we represent would expect,” he said. “The specks on the hind end of a long, long train here are not the things people are worried about. That is what I am convinced of.”

One of Inslee’s vetoes pleased leaders of Everett and Edmonds by axing a proposed change in how money is distributed from an account known as the Fire Insurance Premium Tax.

Everett stood to lose $164,000 a year under new eligibility rules pushed by lawmakers. For Edmonds it would have been $48,449 a year. That money is used by the cities to help pay future pension benefits to firefighters.

Bob Bolerjack, Everett’s director of governmental affairs, said the loss of those dollars would have forced spending cuts elsewhere in the city budget.

“We’re definitely pleased. It would have been a hit,” he said.

Inslee also vetoed a transfer of $10 million from the State Auditor’s Office to the Department of Revenue. The money would have come out of the Performance Audit of Governments account.

“We believe these performance audits have value for the state,” he told reporters after the bill signing.

Deputy State Auditor Jan Jutte, who warned the proposed transfer would lead to layoffs, did agree to put $5 million from the account back into the general fund.

“I believe the compromise reached between our staffs will allow us to complete our performance audit work plan and avoid layoffs,” she said in a letter to Inslee.

Also Monday, the governor signed a supplemental capital budget with money for several area projects including:

$1.5 million to Everett to help develop low-barrier housing for the chronically homeless. The city, which has provided housing at scattered sites for seven people, will put the money toward building a facility with 60 units of housing plus social services on-site.

$309,000 to Lake Stevens for use in its long-awaited makeover of its civic center. The money will pay for demolition of some, but not all, existing buildings plus initial design and preparation of the site for new replacement buildings.

$77,000 to Edmonds to help pay for construction of a memorial park to honor veterans. Plans now call for work to begin in June and be dedicated Nov. 11, Veterans Day, according to organizers.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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