Inslee budget proposal begins buildup to 2015 debate

Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled his 2014 supplemental budget proposal Tuesday, but the state’s biggest budget debate may already be starting for the 2015-17 biennium.

The supplemental budget largely holds steady with what the Legislature approved earlier this year, with about a $200 million increase in appropriations through the end of the 2015 fiscal year. But with increasing strains on state services — rising school enrollment, a growing prison population, an ongoing impasse over the state’s ailing transportation system and a Supreme Court order to boost school funding — Inslee said now is the time to lay the groundwork for the 2015 budget debate.

“This is to start to prepare that discussion because there are going to be quite a few things that hit us in 2015 that are inexorable,” Inslee said Thursday in a telephone interview with the Yakima Herald-Republic.

With incremental growth in state revenue over the last two years after several years of steep cuts, Inslee said the struggle to support and improve services won’t be as dire in the coming biennium, but the political fight will be no less difficult.

“It doesn’t mean by any stretch of the imagination that this is not a difficult piece of legislative work,” he said.

The budget debate will include finding an estimated $5 billion needed to meet a 2011 state Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature is not adequately funding public education. The 2013-15 budget approved earlier this year puts about $1 billion in new money toward education, but Inslee said much of that comes from one-time fixes and fund transfers.

“There’s no more low-hanging fruit, and that’s just a reality the Legislature is going to have to face,” Inslee said.

Inslee said his office will unveil specific proposals for bringing in more state revenue in the coming weeks before the Legislature convenes Jan. 13. Inslee wants to end a number of tax exemptions and also make available funding for cost-of-living pay increases for schoolteachers in the next biennium.

“We want high-quality teachers who have good morale,” Inslee said. “That’s a problem after ignoring (cost-of-living adjustments) for teachers for six years.”

Inslee’s supplemental budget includes an additional $11 million for fighting wildfires. Inslee said he expects firefighting to become increasingly demanding because of climate change.

“That’s something we’re going to have to prepare for,” Inslee said.


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