The state budget affects every aspect of our lives – from the quality of our schools to the cost of basic services and the prevalence of jobs in our communities. This year, as Washingtonians face staggering economic, health, and social hardship due to the pandemic, state budget choices will make even more of a difference for people’s quality of life and actual economic survival. With so many families and small businesses facing financial disaster, while a divided Congress refuses to continue the relief we need, Washington state policymakers must be bold and go big to keep working people and small businesses afloat and lay the foundations for a more equitable and sustainable economy post-COVID.
Governor Inslee’s 2021 budget proposal keeps money flowing into our communities and rejects the path of cutting life-saving services. His capital budget moves forward new construction projects across the state to create jobs, improve our educational and other public facilities, and move us closer to a green economy. His proposed operating budget asks the wealthiest to pay a little more through a capital gains tax, and devotes those funds to priority investments in child care, public health, student supports, and financial assistance.
Washington’s legislature should view the Governor’s budget as a foundation from which to build up. We need bolder investments in child care, health care access, higher education, and other areas, using additional progressive revenue sources.
Investing in Washington’s Future
For years, Washington has failed to make the investments necessary to promote educational opportunity and healthy communities, leaving vital public services and sectors like child care, health care, and higher education strained and underfunded. The pandemic has since increased pressure on our state’s overburdened public service infrastructure, leaving our shared public services worn thin, in serious need of repair. State lawmakers have a unique opportunity to rebuild our economy and address racial inequality in the wake of the pandemic. Governor Inslee’s budget takes a first step towards finally providing adequate funding for the foundational services upon which our communities rely on. Still, we must go further, much further, to meet the moment and increase bold, stimulative investments.
Early Learning and Child Care
Our state’s economic recovery from COVID-19 will depend on many things – including if parents going back to work can find a safe place for their kids. But child care was in crisis even before COVID, and without help, many centers may never reopen. The Governor’s budget increases child care investments, maintains some of the flexible policies implemented over the past year, and opens an important pathway for access to healthcare for the child care workforce through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. But early learning needs hundreds of millions of dollars of increased funding to address the changes brought on by COVID on top of the underlying problems of low pay, high costs, and lack of access.
Health care is a human right –and is especially critical during a pandemic. Governor Inslee makes important new investments in critical public health infrastructure and behavioral health needs. But health care will continue to remain unaffordable and inaccessible without additional large investments, including in immigrant health access, Cascade Care subsidies on the Exchange, and expansion of coverage for new mothers following childbirth.
Higher education is a public asset that strengthens our economy and promotes opportunity and economic resilience. In this unprecedented global pandemic and recession, it is more important than ever to invest in our future by investing in colleges and universities. In past recessions, higher education was first in line for the chopping block in state budgets. Governor Inslee’s budget avoids those cuts and takes baby steps toward more equitable access – but we must do more to make higher education affordable, accessible, and of high quality. We need to start the shift back to the funding of previous decades, which enabled full-time and appropriately compensated professors and staff and opened up new futures for students and families through affordable tuition.
Progressive Revenue: A Pathway to Community Investment
Governor Inslee’s progressive capital gains tax proposal, paired with reviving the Working Families Tax Rebate, is a great first step towards rebuilding our economy by asking those who’ve done well in Washington to do right by Washington. Our state is the worst in the nation when it comes to our regressive tax system – with the lowest income families paying the biggest share. For too long, our state has been kept in a never-ending revenue crisis that forces students, patients, and families of color to compete for adequate funding every budget cycle. It doesn’t have to be this way. The Governor’s budget takes the first step to creating a more equitable system. Now let’s go further by expanding the estate tax, increasing taxes on the wealthiest corporations that pay lavish salaries, and taxing the wealth of billionaires.
It’s Time for Washington Lawmakers to Deliver for Working People
The Governor’s proposal is a first step towards an equitable economic recovery. Still, we need much larger investments and much bolder revenue proposals to build an economy that works for everyone, where workers, families, and small businesses can thrive. By asking the wealthiest to pay their share, we’ll be able to provide childcare to working families, grants to struggling small businesses, and much-needed supplemental support to laid-off workers. A capital gains tax is a good start, but on its own, it won’t adequately fund these critical investments or stabilize the industries hardest hit by the pandemic. By financing important public services now, we can come out of this emergency into a new and better normal where we all thrive together.
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Progressive Revenue to Advance Racial Equity