13 05, 2020

Senate Majority Leader welcomes June Robinson to the Senate

May 13th, 2020|News Release|

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig issued the statement below following the Snohomish County Council unanimously appointing June Robinson this afternoon to replace Sen. John McCoy as the Senator from the 38th Legislative District. McCoy retired last month:

“June Robinson has dedicated her life to making the lives of others better.

“Throughout her career she has committed herself to the improvement of public health for diverse populations both here in Washington and in other parts of the world. Her public health background, budget experience and expertise in affordable housing are especially important now to the legislature and the entire state.

“The Senate is fortunate to welcome a public servant of June Robinson’s caliber and experience.”

6 05, 2020

Senate announces formation of bipartisan COVID-19 long-term recovery committee

May 6th, 2020|News Release|

OLYMPIA – Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane) on Wednesday announced the formation of a bipartisan Special Committee on Economic Recovery in the Washington State Senate to address the state’s long-term economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The committee will hold its first meeting in June and is tasked with making recommendations on COVID-19 recovery legislation in advance of the 2021 legislative session, or before that if lawmakers are called back into session this year.

“It’s hard to imagine a single aspect of day-to-day life in Washington that will not be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and we must respond swiftly to its devastating impacts on workers, businesses and households with solutions that will foster a robust and sustained recovery,” Billig said. “This bipartisan committee will lay the groundwork and help lead our state in addressing the economic impacts of the virus through effective and innovative solutions to this unprecedented challenge.”

Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) will serve as the committee’s chair. Republican Senator Randi Becker (R-Eatonville) will serve as vice chair. In total, the seven-member committee will be comprised of four Democrats and three Republicans. Democratic senators will include Sens. Manka Dhingra, Christine Rolfes and Rebecca Saldaña. In addition to Becker, Sen. Tim Sheldon and a yet-to-be-determined Republican will represent the Senate GOP.

“The purpose of this select committee is to look deeply at the ways in which the pandemic has structurally changed our state and regional economies, and to make recommendations on how we can come out stronger on the other side for workers and the businesses that employ them,” Frockt said. “The goal is to have this committee work together, without partisanship, in order to drive innovative, forward-looking ideas that can help the people in every corner of this state recover and prosper.”

The committee will hold work sessions in the coming months to hear from experts in a variety of fields, look at what other states are doing to recover from the outbreak and identify innovative ways to rejuvenate Washington’s economy and communities throughout the state.

The Senate’s Facilities and Operations Committee voted today to officially form the committee.

16 04, 2020

Statement from Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane) on the retirement of Sen. John McCoy (D-Tulalip) 

April 16th, 2020|News Release|

“I was saddened to learn of my friend John McCoy’s retirement from the Senate, but his legacy of service to his community, our state and the nation will be felt for generations.

“He served this country with distinction for 20 years as a member of the Air Force. For almost as long, he has represented the people of 38th District in the Legislature, advocating for a healthier environment, more inclusive education, a voice for Native American people and countless other policies to make life better for every Washingtonian.

“Since 2016, he has helped guide the Senate Democratic Caucus as our Caucus Chair, always offering a steady path forward as we regained the majority and took on historic challenges.

“As the only Native American member of the Senate, Sen. McCoy’s perspective and understanding of tribal sovereignty and governments has been instrumental in advancing the policies to support our state’s indigenous communities. His determination to integrate historically accurate tribal history, in a way that celebrates the beauty and the richness of every tribe into school curricula, will continue to give generations of Washington students a more complete education.

“He has led efforts to improve access to dental care in Native communities by sponsoring a landmark dental therapy bill. He worked to tear down barriers to voting, increase broadband access to rural areas and is a relentless champion for clean water.

“For me personally, John McCoy is a mentor. He was the chair of the first committee I ever served on in the legislature and was a teacher and role model for me then and he continues in that role today. I think the world of John McCoy..

“To his wife Jeannie, his daughters, grand-children and great grandchildren – thank you. Thank you for sharing this great man with our state and our country for so many years.

“I wish my friend John McCoy and his family nothing but the best in his well-earned retirement.”

18 03, 2020

Billig: Governor has Legislature’s full support

March 18th, 2020|News Release|

OLYMPIA – Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig said the Legislature took steps before adjourning last week to swiftly support coronavirus response efforts by Gov. Jay Inslee, including the release of $200 million in emergency funds appropriated by the Washington State Legislature to help fund the state’s COVID-19 response.

The funds will be used for hospital surge capacity, testing, and other efforts at local health departments. The Legislature also authorized immediate funding that may be used for shelter needs related to COVID-19, which the Department of Commerce is already in the process of distributing to counties and cities.

“Leaders in the Legislature will continue to coordinate with the governor’s staff and our partners in local governments to mitigate both the health emergency and the economic crisis that is unfolding in our state,” Billig said. “I admire the work of the governor and his staff under difficult circumstances, and his important warning for all of us to do our part to stay away from public gatherings and slow the spread of coronavirus. In concert with his efforts, state leaders will continue to take any and all actions we can to protect the people of our state.”

Before the Legislature adjourned last week, lawmakers approved other key measures to protect Washingtonians during the coronavirus outbreak:

  • Ensuring people receiving unemployment insurance can continue to do so even if they can’t meet the work search requirement due to quarantine.
  • Supporting businesses that rehire employees who had to go on unemployment insurance because of the coronavirus emergency.
  • Reimbursing nursing homes that aid in the coronavirus response.
  • Allowing school employees to maintain health insurance eligibility for the rest of the school year even if they come up short of required work hours because of the coronavirus state of emergency.
  • Giving flexibility to the State Board of Education to allow high school seniors to graduate this year if they were on track before the emergency declaration.

“Public health is our first priority, with mitigating the economic impacts from this outbreak not far behind,” Billig said. “I know Washingtonians will remain resilient during this difficult time, while at the state level we’ll continue to do our part to deliver all the resources necessary to slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe.”

Primary state response websites:

Washington State’s official COVID-19 site: www.coronavirus.wa.gov
Washington State Department of Health: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus
Washington Employment Security Department: https://esd.wa.gov/newsroom/covid-19

 

12 03, 2020

Sen. Billig statement on the conclusion of the 2020 session

March 12th, 2020|News Release|

“I am so proud of the work we’ve done on behalf of the people of this state, but all of our thoughts right now are with the people and communities across Washington impacted by the coronavirus and with the public health professionals who are working around the clock to stop its spread.

“The budget we passed today addresses the needs we saw coming into session as well as those that unfolded in recent weeks. The steps we have taken this year, and really for the past three years, leaves our state in a strong position to combat this outbreak.

“We finished our work on time for the third year in a row – marking only the third time in the last 79 years the Legislature has accomplished that.

“This budget invests heavily in public health, including $200 million in emergency funding to the State Department of Health and local public health organizations so the people working to keep us safe and healthy have the resources they need. We also invested in accessible health care, behavioral health, affordable housing, education, early learning, the environment and other areas important to the people of this state. This budget leaves more than $3.5 billion in reserves – an extraordinarily important figure in these unprecedented and unpredictable times.

“We will continue to do everything in our power as legislators to invest in the future of our state and keep Washingtonians safe during this crisis.”

12 03, 2020

Legislature doubles funding to respond to coronavirus

March 12th, 2020|News Release|

OLYMPIA – As the 2020 Legislative session came to a close, lawmakers increased emergency coronavirus funding from $100 million to $200 million.

With the passage of House Bill 2965, a total of $175 million will be directed to state and local public health agencies and the remaining $25 million will be transferred into the newly created COVID-19 unemployment account to help businesses and workers disrupted by the pandemic.

“It’s crucial that the people of Washington have the full support of the Legislature behind them during these challenging times,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. “Even after we leave Olympia today, we will be collaborating closely with Gov. Inslee’s office to ensure they have the resources and authority they need.”

The COVID-19 unemployment account will mitigate costs for businesses due to an expected increase in unemployment insurance claims.

The Legislature finished its work on time for the third straight year and is scheduled to return next January for a 105-day session.

11 03, 2020

Takko secures $700,000 to cut traffic congestion in Aberdeen

March 11th, 2020|News Release|

The City of Aberdeen will receive $700,000 for the US 12 Highway-Rail Separation Project, thanks to a provision added to the Legislature’s final transportation budget by Sen. Dean Takko (D-Longview).

The money will fund preliminary work for an overpass and roundabout to raise South Chehalis Street above US 12 and Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad, where train traffic regularly causes congestion and backups on US 12.

The number of freight trains traveling along this corridor has significantly increased over the past 15 years and is predicted to continue growing in the coming decades.

The Port of Grays Harbor, at the western end of the Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad, is the closest port to Seattle with direct access to the ocean and is crucial for transporting timber, agricultural products, and autos, among other goods.

“This funding is crucial because it keeps this project moving and positions us competitively for big federal transportation grants,” said Takko. “Having more freight trains on the tracks is a sign of a strong economy — a good problem to have — but we need the overpass to cut down on traffic jams when those trains come through town.”

Without this funding, the project would miss a key deadline and the planning process would need to be restarted, setting the work back by months and costing an additional $300,000. The state’s $700,000 will help get the project construction ready by 2023, which will make it more competitive for federal INFRA and BUILD grant programs.

Local support for the project is strong. The City of Aberdeen, Grays Harbor County, and the Port of Grays Harbor together have committed $700,000 to match the state’s appropriation.

A 2019 cost-benefit analysis calculated that this project will return a benefit of $1.72 for every $1.00 invested.

11 03, 2020

Legislature doubles funding to respond to coronavirus

March 11th, 2020|News Release, Uncategorized|

OLYMPIA – The Legislature approved the 2020 supplemental operating budget today as the 60-day legislative session ended on time. In a late addition, lawmakers increased emergency coronavirus funding from $100 million to $200 million.

With the passage of House Bill 2965, a total of $175 million will be directed to state and local public health agencies and the remaining $25 million will be transferred into the newly created COVID-19 unemployment account to help businesses and workers disrupted by the pandemic.

“It’s crucial that the people of Washington have the full support of the Legislature behind them during these challenging times,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. “Even after we leave Olympia today, we will be collaborating closely with Gov. Inslee’s office to ensure they have the resources and authority they need.”

The COVID-19 unemployment account will mitigate costs for businesses due to an expected increase in unemployment insurance claims.

The increased coronavirus funding was the only major change from the budget agreement reached between the House and Senate on Wednesday (see original press release immediately below). The Legislature finished its work on time for the third straight year and is scheduled to return next January for a 105-day session.

ORIGINAL RELEASE:

OLYMPIA – Budget leaders in the House and Senate today unveiled a $1 billion, 2020 supplemental operating budget that provides an additional $160 million to address housing and homelessness as well as $100 million to support the state and local response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The budget plan includes no new general taxes and complies with the state’s four-year balanced budget requirement. It leaves $3 billion in total reserves at the end of the biennium, the largest balance in state history. Over the four-year outlook, the reserves are expected to grow to $3.6 billion.

The budget includes significant new investments in childcare and early learning programs to address the immediate needs of working households.

“This budget will make progress on urgent needs across our state — public health, housing, childcare and climate resilience,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, (D-Bainbridge Island), chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. “It’s a plan that balances our needs with fiscal discipline. We’ve done our best to prepare our state for an uncertain, volatile economy.”

The budget adds a just over $1 billion in new spending to the $52.4 billion, two-year budget passed by lawmakers last April.

“This budget makes prudent and responsible investments where they are needed most. We confront the scourge of homelessness and commit significant resources to combat the coronavirus outbreak,” said Rep. Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane), chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

The additional $100 million in coronavirus funds fulfills a request by the state Department of Health.

“We continue to strengthen our foundational public health investments. This budget ensures our health departments have the resources they need to respond to any public health threat,” Rolfes said.

More than $150 million will target the immediate shelter needs of the state’s growing homeless population and support new affordable housing programs.

“Across our state, too many people are living in their cars or on the street. This budget ensures that more of our neighbors will be able to find and maintain safe, affordable housing,” said Rep. June Robinson (D-Everett), vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

Other highlights of the budget include additional funding for K-12 education, climate resilience, rural health clinics and nursing homes.

Highlights of the 2020 Supplemental Budget Proposal

  • $100 million to cover costs associated with the coronavirus outbreak, including a dedicated call center, monitoring, testing and support for local health jurisdictions.
  • $160 million to address homelessness and affordable housing, including:
    • $60 million in one-time funding to shelter homeless adults, families and youth across the state.
    • $15 million (per year) for the state’s Housing and Essential Needs program.
    • $40 million for the state’s Housing Trust Fund.
    • $10 million in rapid-response funding to help more individuals stay in their homes.
    • $15 million (per year) for permanent supportive housing.
    • $5 million for maintenance and preservation.
  • $50 million to address the climate crisis by investing in communities and projects to enhance mitigation and resilience.
  • $153 million to the state Department of Children and Families to reduce childcare rates for working families ($65M), strengthen the foster care system ($52M), expand early learning programs ($15M), and other increases.
  • $172 million for K-12 education in the form of local levy assistance ($46M), counselors in high poverty schools ($32M), special education ($2M), pupil transportation ($41M), paraeducator training ($14M), student mental health and safety ($3M), and other increases.
  • Health care: Investments in primary care physician rate increases ($10M), rural health clinics ($34M), family planning ($8M), foundational public health ($17M), and other increases.

Other budget items of note include:

  • $51 million to help meet the increasing demand for the state new Paid Family Leave Program
  • $18 million to support struggling nursing homes by increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates.
  • $25 million for wildfire suppression and prevention.
  • $24 million for operations at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
  • $2 million for enhanced election technology and security.
  • $4 million for state parks.

About the Supplemental Budget
Supplemental budgets are passed in even years and allow the state to make mid-course corrections to the two-year budgets passed in odd years. It gives the state the opportunity to adjust spending to keep families safe, provide high-quality education, and address other emergent needs like public health.

27 02, 2020

Senate passes budget focused on homelessness, working families

February 27th, 2020|News Release|

OLYMPIA – The 2020 supplemental operating budget (SB 6168) passed today by the Senate directs an additional $115 million to critical investments to address the state’s homelessness crisis.

The Senate proposal was approved on a 33-16 vote and includes nearly $1 billion in new spending overall, including significant increases for childcare and early learning as well as a historic investment to speed up financing and construction of the new UW Medicine Behavioral Health Teaching Facility.

“With this budget, we are able to address three of the biggest challenges our state faces — affordable housing and homelessness, behavioral health, and climate change,” said Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee and chief budget writer. “This is a realistic, sustainable and responsible budget that will make a difference in people’s daily lives while also leaving the state in a historically strong fiscal position.”

The proposed budget supplements the $52.4 billion, two-year budget passed by lawmakers last year while reserving $2.9 billion in the state’s rainy day fund to guard against a downturn in the economy.

The budget also includes an additional $10 million – with flexibility built in – to support local health officials as they prepare to respond to the global coronavirus outbreak.

“We have strengthened funding for foundational public health over the last several years, and we build in flexibility to ensure our health departments have the resources they need to respond to any public health threat,” Rolfes said.

Other highlights of the budget include additional funding for K-12 special education programs, election security, rural health clinics, and nursing homes.

Highlights of the 2020 Supplemental Budget Proposal

The Senate proposal invests $315 million in one-time revenue projected in the February forecast, including:

  • $115 million to address homelessness by increasing shelter capacity and keeping vulnerable families housed.
  • $100 million to address the climate crisis by investing in communities and projects to enhance mitigation and resiliency.
  • $100 million toward a new UW Behavioral Health Hospital, which lawmakers approved in 2019 to address a workforce shortage and a lack of adequate beds for patients.

Several other funding increases include:

  • $128 million in K-12 education dollars for local levy assistance ($46M), special education ($21M), pupil transportation ($41M), paraeducator training ($12M), and other increases.
  • $184 million in health care dollars for managed care ($61M), primary care physician rate increases ($10M), rural health clinics ($34M), family planning ($8M), and other increases.
  • $116 million to the state Dept. of Children and Families to reduce childcare rates for working families ($27M), strengthen the foster care system ($20M), expand early learning programs ($5M), and other increases.

Other budget items of note include:

  • $33.7 million to support struggling nursing homes by increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates.
  • $20 million for wildfire suppression and prevention.
  • $10 million for enhanced election technology and security.
  • $10 million to cover the costs associated with the coronavirus outbreak, including a dedicated call center, monitoring, and support for local health jurisdictions.

Click here to find budget documents and summaries.

About the Supplemental Budget
Supplemental budgets are passed in even years and allow the state to make mid-course corrections to the two-year budgets passed in odd years. It gives the state the opportunity to adjust spending to keep families safe, provide high-quality education, and address other emergent needs like mental health care.

25 02, 2020

Senate transportation budget addresses I-976 funding crisis, restarts stuck projects

February 25th, 2020|News Release|

The Senate on Tuesday unveiled the 2020 supplemental transportation budget. Normally a document used to make minor tweaks and updates to the statewide transportation needs, this version of the supplemental budget is introduced at a time when Washington’s transportation funding is at a crossroads.

This budget utilizes one-time balancing methods that provide a short-term fix, but does not attempt to address the larger, longer-term transportation budget crisis the Legislature must address next session.

“I’ve chaired the Transportation Committee for the last three years and been a member of the committee for nearly a decade. I can honestly say putting together this supplemental budget was one of the more challenging tasks of my tenure,” said Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens). “The well has run dry in terms of transportation funding and this budget is an excellent representation of that.”

Gas tax revenues, the primary source of revenue that funds state transportation priorities, have steadily declined in recent years. The passage of Initiative 976 supplied another deep hit to transportation coffers by slashing passenger and light truck weight fees, passenger vehicle license fees and other revenue sources used for infrastructure improvements and multimodal services throughout Washington. I-976 will eliminate $453 million in state funds in the 2019-21 biennium and the loss will increase in the next biennium to $684.6 million.

Because of all these factors, this year’s supplemental budget has undergone something of a belt tightening. Budget writers sought creative solutions in how they deal with I-976 and a yet-to-come Supreme Court decision on its constitutionality.

The supplemental budget totals nearly $10.5 billion, including re-appropriations for delayed capital project activity, cost increases and reduced appropriations to account for the significant revenue reductions brought on by I-976.

However, I-976 is just the latest challenge to transportation revenue. Since the March 2019 transportation revenue forecast, transportation revenue projections are down $344 million (5.1 percent) in the 2019-21 biennium and $2.6 billion (7.4 percent) over the 10-year forecast horizon.

“Transportation revenue was drying up prior to the passage of I-976. The initiative took things from bad to devastating,” Hobbs said. “We had to get creative to make sure the state’s priorities were met. Moving money around like this is something that can only be done once. We are looking at a significant budget shortfall in January without new revenue.”

The budget assumes a general underrun of $402 million. That includes $200 million in highway capital, $26.8 million in public transportation capital, $66.5 million in local program capital in addition to other agency efficiencies. The budget includes “trigger” language that restores $121.7M in expenditure reductions should I-976 be overturned.

Addressing I-976 in this way provides the Governor with the ability to take all of the highway, local, rail, and public transportation projects off of his pause and delay lists.

“The Senate’s supplemental transportation budget takes a realistic approach to addressing our state’s transportation challenges in light of available revenue and the uncertainty over the fate of Initiative 976,” said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and ranking Republican on the Senate Transportation Committee. “This is not the type of budget we would have liked to have been able to move forward but it is a budget that puts us on a prudent path that is needed at this time.”

Other areas of interest in the 2019-21 supplemental transportation budget include:

CULVERTS

$175 million in Connecting Washington funds is transferred to the 2019-21 biennium to fund fish passage barrier removal, bringing the total to $275 million this biennium to help fully fund the cost of complying with a Supreme Court injunction by 2030.

FERRIES

  • $10.9 million increase for Seattle Terminal Replacement.
  • $5.4 million for additional staffing costs, including $4.4 million for vessel crew overtime and $1 million for additional terminal staffing costs.
  • $4.2 million for training including for crew qualification, break-in training for reassignments, evacuation slide training, and electronic navigation training.
  • $4.3 million in savings due to the retirement of the MV Elwha ferry vessel, one of two vessels capable of sailing internationally. The retirement avoids $19 million in capital costs and reduces operating costs by $3 million per year. Washington State Ferries will move its only reserve boat, the Sealth, into regular service.

WASHINGTON STATE PATROL

  • $975,000 to replace reduced Enhanced 911 revenue supporting emergency dispatch services in King County.
  • $830,000 for additional information technology security efforts.
  • $7.1 million in savings from updated projections of WSP trooper and non-field force staff vacancies.