Washington Legislature begins 105-day session

Washington state’s 105-day legislative session is underway Monday, and lawmakers return to Olympia with a variety of costly issues on their plate – including finding money to improve the state’s troubled mental health system.

For the first time in years, lawmakers are set to write a new two-year budget without the primary focus being satisfying a court mandate on education funding, though they say there’s still work to be done to continue to improve basic education. While the latest forecast showed state revenues for the next two-year cycle increasing to $50 billion, Governor Jay Inslee has said that additional revenue is needed to fund priority issues like mental health and other programs in addition to maintaining government services at current levels, including billions previously dedicated toward the state’s education system. A part of that ongoing cost is the investment the Legislature has made in basic education as part of a multi-year court case that was resolved last year.

As part of his budget plan unveiled last month, Inslee’s revenue proposals included an increase in the business and occupation tax on services provided by accountants, attorneys, real estate agents, and others, and a new state capital gains tax – a proposal that is certain to face pushback from Republicans and even some Democrats.

In addition to mental health and education, other issues on the table this year include climate change, sexual harassment, and government transparency.

Leaders in both legislative chambers will release their budget plans in the coming months and will work to negotiate a final spending plan before the session concludes at the end of April. (AP)