Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talks to reporters on Thursday during the unveiling of his supplemental budget proposal at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talks to reporters on Thursday during the unveiling of his supplemental budget proposal at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Inslee’s budget solves school funding with help from carbon

His budget would use reserves to boost education, then replenish them with a carbon tax or fee.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday laid out his blueprint to amply fund public schools by a looming deadline, bolster the mental health system, plug a hole in the state’s Medicaid program, and create a carbon pricing scheme that’s been his top priority since taking office.

His plan, contained in a proposed supplemental budget, commits to putting another $950 million into public schools to ensure the state is paying its full share of basic education by next September, as demanded by the state Supreme Court.

“It’s the final step to completion of this constitutional obligation,” Inslee said. “Our teachers and students are depending on us to deliver this year.”

Under his approach, money from the state reserves would cover the cost and school districts would receive those dollars throughout the next school year. He would restock the reserve with revenue from a new tax or fee on carbon to be collected starting in 2019. Details of that plan will be provided next month, he said.

Overall, Inslee is proposing additional spending in a number of areas on top of the two-year $43.7 billion budget lawmakers passed in June.

He is seeking $106 million to cover higher operating costs at the state’s two psychiatric hospitals and changes required at Western State Hospital to continue receiving federal funding. Another $162 million is penciled in to cover anticipated shortfalls in the state Medicaid program due to overly optimistic predictions of savings that were assumed in the original budget.

There’s also $44.7 million to pay for an anticipated accumulation of fines, attorney fees and other costs associated with the Trueblood case, which aims to eliminate long waits for evaluation and treatment for people accused of crimes.

And Inslee is asking for nearly $60 million to cover the unanticipated costs of fighting wildfires across the state.

There are numerous smaller expenditures targeting the crises of homelessness and opioid abuse. These include $250,000 for a state affordable housing navigator to work with public and private entities on expanding housing options. And there is $500,000 for a 40-bed residential criminal justice diversion center pilot project in Snohomish County.

The governor’s proposal now goes to the Legislature where it will serve as a framework for budget writers in the House and Senate in the upcoming 60-day session.

A focal point will be the education component.

Lawmakers enacted a plan earlier this year ensuring the state pays its share of education by the 2019 school year. That’s a year later than the court demands, and justices told lawmakers last month they needed to meet the deadline.

That means advancing the timetable to come up with roughly $950 million of which the lion’s share is to cover the portion of salaries of teachers, staff and administrators now paid by local school districts.

Inslee stretches out when the money will be paid. He pencils in a portion of McCleary-related expenses in this budget with the bulk of it getting paid out at the start of the next budget cycle, which coincides with the end of the 2018 school year.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, applauded the governor for putting forth a plan that is balanced for the next four years as required by state law. He isn’t a fan of Inslee’s decision to achieve the balance by tapping the Rainy Day fund in the future, nor of his proposed carbon tax.

“The governor’s budget proposal is just a starting point,” Braun said in a statement. “Now it’s up to legislative budget leaders to move forward and develop a prudent and responsible supplemental budget that makes necessary adjustments to the two-year spending plan instead of tacking on expensive wish-list spending items.”

Also Thursday, Inslee blasted lawmakers for failing to pass a capital budget last session and demanded they do so in the first week of the 2018 legislative session.

House and Senate negotiators did reach agreement on a construction budget in June. But the Republican-led majority in the Senate refused to vote on it pending resolution of a dispute on water rights incited by the Supreme Court decision in the Hirst case.

The governor Thursday proposed a $4.5 billion capital budget incorporating much of what lawmakers agreed on earlier. One of the largest Snohomish County projects on the list is $37.7 million to Edmonds Community College for constructing a new Science, Engineering and Technology building.

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

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