Lowry applauds budget focus on child protection, education, environment

OLYMPIA Gov. Mike Lowry said today he is pleased that the supplemental budget agreement approved by state lawmakers maintains his commitment to kids, higher education and environmental protection while also providing stop-gap funding for several of the state's immediate needs.

Lowry said budget negotiators "moved in the right direction" in setting aside funding for additional child-protection services, greater access to higher education, child-care help for working parents, worker retraining, and Puget Sound cleanup efforts. The compromise agreement also includes stop-gap funding requested by Gov. Lowry last month to help several key programs hit by federal cutbacks.

The governor said that although the final budget package includes no movement in welfare or juvenile justice reform, the overall plan holds true to his long-held priorities.

"The Legislature had a tough job to do this session, and I am pleased they were able to come to agreement on the issues that are critical to the future of our state," Lowry said. "Perhaps most importantly, this budget will help protect the most vulnerable members of our society our children."

According to Lowry, the budget includes $18.9 million in support for children's services, including funds earmarked for 109 new state caseworkers, caseworker training, expanded substance-abuse treatment for parents, and better monitoring of foster homes. Legislators also agreed to fund Lowry's request for a special children's ombudsman to ensure that licensed facilities adequately protect children and to boost child-care assistance for working families.

The governor said the budget agreement also places a high priority on expanded access to higher education.

"Our state has the potential to become the high-technology center of the nation," Lowry said. "However, greater access to higher education and worker-training programs are absolutely critical if we hope to continue attracting world-class businesses to Washington."

Included in the supplemental budget is $54.3 million for expansion of electronic communications between existing college campuses and local communities and $10 million to fund K-12 technology equipment and programs. The budget also includes $4.5 million in additional student financial aid and would add 3365 enrollment slots at two- and four-year institutions.

The governor said he is especially pleased that legislators agreed with his request for continued cleanup efforts on Puget Sound by providing $1.3 million in funds to implement the Puget Sound Action Team (proposed in House Bill 2875). If the enabling legislation is not approved by the Legislature, the funds would be used by the governor's office to coordinate state agency implementation of the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority.

"Cleanup efforts on Puget Sound simply must continue," Lowry said. "A clean environment is something we all enjoy -- yet we must also remember that good environmental policy is good economic policy."

Lowry said the budget plan also includes stop-gap funding he requested in February to offset losses to several key programs affected by federal budget cutbacks. Included is $2.5 million in emergency funding for 427 food banks and soup kitchens; $813,000 to protect the state's investment in salmon at seven Columbia River hatcheries threatened by cuts to Mitchell Act funding; and $5.4 million to continue summer youth employment and training programs.

The Legislature also funded Lowry's request for $23.2 million in state matching funds to help state residents recover from winter storms and floods. And $5 million in grants will help pay for repairs to local dikes and levees that are not eligible for federal disaster assistance.

Finally, the governor said the budget proposal will continue the state's very successful Jobs and the Environment program. The $4 million in funding will enable more dislocated timber workers and fishers to go back to work on critical watershed restoration efforts.

"This budget will help protect kids," Lowry said, "particularly the youngest, most vulnerable children and especially those in the state's care. It will open college doors to more students and will provide job training for others. And, it will protect and enhance our state's magnificent environment. Those are very important goals, they have always been my priorities, and they are well served in this budget."

The governor has until March 30 to act on the budget approved today.


For more information, contact the Governor's Communications Office at (360) 753-6790.