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Lawmakers pass state budget: A look at the details

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OLYMPIA, Wash. -- After months of debate, including a special legislative session, lawmakers in Olympia finally settled on a new state budget.  It includes money for wildfires, higher education and mental health.

“I would have liked to have seen it earlier, but they’ve got a budget,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday. “That’s what this state needs.”

Inslee called the supplemental budget a "good compromise."

In a written statement released Tuesday night, Inslee said supplemental budgets are intended to make modest adjustments and updates to the two-year budget, and this is "exactly what legislators accomplished." Inslee said there is more work to do next year on efforts to aid a shortage of public school teachers, mental health and education.

The deal paved the way for Inslee to end his string of vetoes, a strategy he used to force lawmakers to finish their work.

Tuesday's agreement includes nearly $400 million in new spending, based on unexpected events since the state’s big, two-year budget passed last year.  The biggest surprise of all was last year’s costly wildfires.

Democrats, who control the House, and Republicans, who control the Senate, have been at odds for months over what to fund and whether to raise taxes.

“I commend this budget to you,” said Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah.  “We stayed true to our principles.”

That sentiment was echoed by Democrats as well.

“Thousands of students at our higher education institutions will not lose their State Need Grants,” said Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle.

But not everyone is on board with the new plan.

“I think we should do better, and we must do better,” said Rep. Sharon Wiley, D-Vancouver, who argued for more mental health funding.  “We didn’t even come close in this budget.”

Highlights of the budget deal:

  • $190 million for 2015 wildfires
  • $40 million for mental heath programs
  • $26 million for higher education, including financial aid
  • $15 million to combat youth homelessness
  • $7 million to help address teacher shortage

The budget relies on the "Rainy Day fund" and collecting some unpaid back taxes.  No new taxes were adopted.

Despite the new spending, the deal doesn't address the state Supreme Court’s mandate to fully fund public schools.  Lawmakers argue they have until the fall of 2017 to meet that requirement.