Rebuild the Middle Class: Invest in Opportunity

Part one in a series “Special Legislative Session: The Big Picture.” — When legislators return to Olympia on May 13th for a special session to finalize the budget, they should focus on the big picture: strategic investments that build the middle class in Washington state and help people get back to work. Opportunities to do both hinge on our commitment to four widely-shared values: healthy people and a healthy environment; education and opportunity; economic security; and thriving communities (see box). Yet, in the wake of the recession, lawmakers have dramatically weakened investments that reflect these values, and continue to cut them rather than address a revenue system that fails to keep up with the needs of our state.

PI box

Both the House and Senate have proposed budget plans for the next two years.  The House plan clearly does a better job investing in our key values. Both budgets boost investments in education and health, but cut investments that would provide stronger pathways to economic security, as the graph below shows.

However, because it raises $1.2 billion in additional resources — by closing unproductive tax breaks and permanently extending a small surcharge applied to business services— the House plan avoids many of the cuts proposed by the Senate. Many of the cuts avoided under the House plan would, if enacted, further weaken economic supports and hurt the ability of our communities to thrive.  And the House plan makes a larger down-payment towards adequately funding basic education by 2018.

PI values compare

Between the two plans, the House imposes the least damage. But after multiple years of cuts, totaling over $10 billion, we really should be building back our public structures by boosting our investment in things that support our core values. Neither budget does that.

In the coming days, this series, Special Legislative Session: The Big Picture, will look more closely at House and Senate budget proposals in each of the four value areas- economic security, thriving communities, healthy people and environment, and education and opportunity.

Originally published at Washington State Budget & Policy Center.

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