Washington’s $59 Billion Budget Is a Result of Its Ed Spending

Washington’s $59 billion budget is a direct result of the state’s aggressive income tax cuts over the past decade. But after lawmakers approved the two-year spending plan on Monday, much of the news media celebrated the investment in education, water, roads and other infrastructure, while others ridiculed the rapidly shrinking fiscal picture.

Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., celebrated the spending plan’s passage during a campaign rally in southeastern Washington on Tuesday, referring to this as “the true fiscal reality of our state.”

“Washington, this fiscal reality, is serious,” he said. “This is why we’re coming out with a big spend $59 billion bill for our state, $1.6 billion more in education.”

The governor also called attention to the paltry 1.5 percent decrease in state government spending over the past decade. By comparison, California has eliminated $15 billion in state budget cuts and decreased the size of the state government from 33,000 to 25,000 employees in the same time frame.

“In California, we know we can’t protect the public education of our children,” he said. “We all know we can’t protect the health and safety of our entire state.”

But the state’s achievement comes at a cost.

For 2015-2016, the state spent $5.7 billion on its Medicaid program, a 30 percent increase over the previous year. This marked the third straight year that Medicaid spending has increased by more than 1 percent, according to a Capital Times review of state budget documents.

Because of high rates of Medicaid fraud and noncompliance, Medicaid services to patients are down in the state from about 1.6 million in 2013 to 1.4 million in 2015, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which evaluates state budgets.

The new spending plan, which will also be paid for by more borrowing, will not impact the state’s spending on education, by more than 6 percent over last year. As a result, the state government will increase spending by about $2.5 billion, or 3.9 percent.

This spending will not be enough to meet state budget shortfalls, however. And officials are now in a position to have to consider how to end, or even exacerbate, the state’s budget shortfalls, say state and congressional officials.

A Senate fiscal analysis in April projected that the state would need to borrow more than $9 billion to pay off its debt and house the new spending. Last week, federal officials began renegotiating the state’s $50 billion bond debt.

“As we investigate how to permanently pay back the state’s debt, this is not a time to shortchange the services people rely on,” said state Treasurer Kelly Hancock.

Democrats have agreed to many spending cuts — including cuts in programs such as public safety and education, and deeper cuts to special-interest groups.

“This is clearly a bargain,” said state Republican Party Chairman Karl Kuhn. “In Oregon and Kansas, lawmakers have floated around and come up with gimmicks like raising the number of things the government’s can charge for, like the carpool lane tax or the gas tax. It’s a good message to Washington: you can’t squeeze a lemon out of a lemon.”

The state’s spending on health care has been steady but slow in recent years, with overall spending on medical care decreasing by 1.5 percent over the past five years.

In fiscal 2015, the state spent $2.5 billion on mental health services, down from $3.2 billion in fiscal 2013.

“For ten years, Washington has fallen behind the states in health care access,” said state Senate Majority Leader John McCoy, D-Tacoma. “There’s very little in this budget to make up for that.”

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