Washington lawmakers feature education, mental health in budget - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Washington lawmakers feature education, mental health in budget

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Highlights from the $38.8 billion state operating budget for 2016-17 unveiled by Democratic leaders of Washington's House of Representatives Friday morning:

-K-12 EDUCATION: The proposed budget spends $3.2 billion more on K-12 education than the previous two-year budget, but about $1.5 billion of that is new spending, which includes $412 million to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, $741 million to cover the cost of textbooks, supplies and other costs of running schools, $180 million for all-day kindergarten for children statewide, and $70 million to help make students college and career ready via programs including guidance counseling and support for bilingual students.

-MENTAL HEALTH: Partly in response to a Supreme Court decision, House Democrats propose to increase mental-health system spending by $103 million, most of which will go to adding more beds in community mental health facilities ($35.1 million) and in competency restoration wards at state hospitals ($23.1 million).

-COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES: A two-year tuition freeze at the state's public colleges and universities would cost $106 million, which is the largest single slice of Democrats' proposed $257 million increase in higher-education spending. Two scholarship programs, the Opportunity Scholarship for low- and middle- income students majoring in science, engineering, math or technology, and the State Need Grant, which currently is not paid to more than 30,000 students who qualify for it, get a combined $113 million in new spending. Starting the new Washington State University Medical School costs another $8 million.

-EARLY LEARNING: The proposed budget spends $227 million more on pre-kindergarten programs, with $89.1 million going to preschool for low-income families and families with disabled children, and another $47.4 million on the Early Achievers program that ties reimbursements for child care providers to the state's quality rating and improvement system.

-TEACHER PAY: The proposed budget allocates $385 million to restore cost-of-living-adjustments for teacher pay, which have been suspended for six years, and $203 million to bring teachers' health benefit funding to the same level as the state employee system.

-STATE EMPLOYEE PAY: Pay raises and arbitration awards for state employees draw $256.2 million in increased spending from the state's general fund.

In addition to several larger-ticket revenue measures in the budget, the Democrats' proposal also includes an equalizer for Internet transactions that charge customers sales tax for in-state transactions only - a setup the Democrats say puts Washington businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

For a Washington resident, buying from Amazon means paying sales tax, while buying from Overstock.com does not. The Democrats say SHB 1678, to establish several ways to charge sales tax on such transactions - if a credit card from a company with a Washington presence is used, or if a transaction middleman, such as transaction referrer, has Washington presence - would increase state revenues by $30 million in 2015-17 and $54.7 million in 2017-19.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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