Mental health, housing among big challenges for Legislature, Democratic leaders say
Mental health, which includes the opioid crisis. Housing affordability and homelessness. Funding for students with special needs. And the extinction threat faced by the Southern Resident orca whale population.
Those are some of the big issues lawmakers need to address this session, Deputy Majority Leader Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, said Thursday during AWB’s second Lobby Lunch meeting of the 2019 legislative session.
“And,” Springer said, “that’s all done in the context of writing a budget for this year.”
Several dozen employers packed AWB’s conference room in Olympia to hear from Springer, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle.
Sullivan explained that the state’s new revenue growth, about $4.2 billion, is already dedicated to education funding as a result of the McCleary school funding solution reached in recent years. Total state tax collections are about $50 billion now for the two-year budget cycle.He also spoke to the challenges of raising additional revenue for new initiatives, and Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget proposal, which includes new tax proposals.
“That’s a significant amount of revenue, and I’m guessing that $9 billion might be kind of hard for the Legislature to pass...This is going to be a very tough session,” Sullivan said.
Sen. Saldaña spoke about her advocacy for working families, refugees and immigrants, and her willingness to work with the business community to create a prosperous, healthy future for Washington.
“I am about how do we work together, as business, as community, as workers to be able to make sure that we’re creating more health, and prosperity, for you,” she said. This leads to more productivity and success, and fair wages are part of that.
“Even though we have high wages here in Washington state, that’s getting eaten up by other financial pressures, whether that’s college debt, whether that’s healthcare, whether it’s rising rents,” she said.
Saldaña also commended AWB’s Bob Battles for his openness and frankness as he represents the employer community in the Legislature.
After lawmakers spoke, business leaders asked about what feels like an assault on the business community to solve a variety of societal challenges, and an overwhelming number of environmental-related bills, among other concerns.
Sullivan acknowledged there is a “pent-up demand” in the House from many members of the caucus that have the environment as their top priority.
Creating a new state capital gains tax is one of the proposals to help pay for these ambitious new programs. Backers say it would be aimed solely at the wealthy, but small-business owners have shared concerns about how impact their retirement when they go to sell their business.
Springer acknowledged that concern, and hinted at some progress in that area.
“We are aware of that, and we’re starting to turn some dials...to see if we can adjust that,” he said.