For legislators, the time of year is quickly approaching to gather in Olympia for the annual process of discussing, debating, and updating state laws. The Washington State Legislature convenes annually each January but alternates between longer sessions of 105 days when first developing the state’s two-year budgets and shorter sessions of 60 days in the years it updates those budgets. For the upcoming session, the Legislature will convene on January 8 for 60-days.
The primary focus of the session will be updating the operating, transportation, and capital budgets for the 2023-2025 biennium. In addition to the three budget updates, committees will conduct hearings and the Legislature will modify various laws. This session will be busy for me as I will continue serving on the Higher Education and Transportation committees and as the Ranking Member on the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee.
The “short session” is expected to move quickly. There are plenty of topics to discuss and issues to debate, including whether adjustments can be made to the recently approved Climate Commitment Act and other regulations affecting gas prices and people’s increased cost of living. The usual topics of education, energy, and natural resources – among others – will certainly be a big factor as well. Here is a review of each of the budgets to be updated:
Operating Budget ($69.8 billion for 2023-2025)
The operating budget ($69.8 billion) funds the day-to-day operations of the state for two years, including early learning, K-12 education, higher education, health and human services, criminal justice, natural resources, courts, and other areas. Despite the COVID pandemic and national economic uncertainty, state revenues remain somewhat positive, with more dollars flowing into the state than what was projected originally. It remains uncertain how economic factors, such as federal interest rates, gas prices, home values, and past inflation will affect state revenues over the next two and four years.
Some economists have forecasted revenues to flatten over these years. I have concerns about the sustainability of the overall state budget if future revenues flatten or decline. It is my preference that the state set aside more funding in its reserve account to weather any reduced revenue situations. More robust state reserves would help mitigate against any tax increases or spending reductions.
Transportation Budget ($13.5 billion for 2023-2025)
The transportation budget funds the state transportation system, including the maintenance and preservation of roads, bridges, and ferries. This budget also funds the state agencies and commissions that serve our transportation system, including the Washington State Patrol, Department of Licensing, Department of Transportation, Washington Traffic Safety Commission, Transportation Improvement Board, and other entities.
The budget also funds previously approved road projects based on their construction schedules. During the 2022 session, the Legislature approved a new 16-year, $16.9 billion “Move Ahead Washington” transportation package, primarily for preservation and maintenance of the existing system and to complete large-scale projects. Cost escalations on current transportation projects are causing concerns, so the Legislature may need to make some adjustments to the projects and schedule.
Capital Budget ($9.0 billion for 2023-2025)
The state capital budget funds the construction and maintenance of state buildings, public school matching grants, higher education facilities, public lands, parks, and other assets. Most sections of the capital budget include grant programs where local governments apply for funding based on specific qualifications and submission of matching funds. Other elements of the capital budget are more subjective.
Our 12th District team has been able to generate big wins for our district through this budget, including the replacement of key facilities following tragic wildfires, the expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities to improve our quality of life and economy, and enhancements to key community assets. Legislators will evaluate new requests when developing the updated capital budget. However, the updated budget will likely be impacted by the rising costs of current projects.
Other Legislative Issues
In addition to updating the three budgets, other bills will be debated and approved. These will likely include adjustments to education, energy, agriculture, law and justice, environment, childcare, human services, and healthcare laws. I anticipate the recently approved Climate Commitment Act will be debated and potentially refined, especially given the statewide concerns about rising gas prices.
Some lawmakers are discussing a permanent reduction of vehicle registration fees and car tabs to acknowledge the impact of high gas prices on families. Anything to reduce people’s financial burdens is appreciated, but I believe the state should do much more to assist individuals and families who are burdened by inflation and other increased costs. As the 2024 legislative session develops, we will hear more about what proposals are likely to be considered.
Please Keep in Touch
I hope this provides you a good preview of the upcoming legislative session. If you have any questions about the state budgets or legislation being considered, please call our Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000. To learn more about my legislative efforts on your behalf, please visit senatorbradhawkins.org or follow me on Facebook @SenatorBradHawkins. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your state senator.
Brad Hawkins is the State Senator for the 12th Legislative District
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