FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - March 30, 1996
Governor signs supplemental operating budget that achieves his key goals
OLYMPIA - Gov. Mike Lowry today signed into law a supplemental operating budget for Washington state that achieves his goals of maintaining a healthy cash reserve and providing essential support for children's services, higher education, and the environment.
The Governor also praised the Legislature for approving his request for local flood assistance along with stop-gap funding to offset federal cutbacks for food banks, youth employment programs, and salmon hatcheries on the Columbia River.
"Overall, I am very pleased by the responsible job the Legislature did on both the operating budget and the new economic investment incentives approved this year," Lowry said. "Thanks to a growing economy and savings in a number of areas, we were able to make significant improvements in children's services, higher education, and the environment."
As approved by the Governor, the supplemental operating budget (Senate Bill 6251) will add just $12.5 million to the state's $17.6 billion budget adopted last year, holding 1995-97 spending levels $282.5 million below the amount currently allowed by Initiative 601. Of the amount added to last year's budget, $9.9 million was earmarked to meet urgent capital construction needs not addressed by the Legislature and $2.6 million was needed to maintain an adequate reserve for state employee health benefits.
The revised budget leaves a total general fund reserve of $416.1 million, giving the state flexibility to respond to future cutbacks in federal support for state services and the potential effects of a national economic slowdown.
"Although the federal budget deadlock continues between Congress
and the President, both sides have expressed a commitment to balance
the federal budget over the next seven years-- that means a huge
reduction in funding to states, no matter what the details are,"
Lowry said. "This budget leaves us in a reasonably good position
to address the financial challenges ahead."
Lowry made the improvement of state services for children a top spending priority during the 1996 legislative session. The final supplemental budget provides a total of $25.2 million in state money aimed at troubled families, at-risk youth, and children in the state's care, including:
The Legislature also provided $418,000 to establish a new ombudsman's office to ensure that the state complies with statutory requirements relating to protection of children and families.
"Recent events have demonstrated that the state needs to do a better job of ensuring the health and safety of children under state supervision," Lowry said. "By reducing caseloads for overburdened social workers and providing greater oversight at licensed care facilities, this budget will allow us to move forward in that area."
Although the Legislature did not approve changes Lowry had sought
in parole programs and sentencing laws for juvenile offenders,
it did provide $2.3 million to improve security for residents
and staff at state juvenile rehabilitation institutions.
This year has been a watershed year for new investments in public schools and the state's higher education system. A decline in the number of additional children expected to enter the public school system during the current budget period has helped to offset the cost of new initiatives to develop a technology network to link public schools and college classrooms, improve access to higher education, and address safety issues raised by local school districts.
Along with $42.3 million to develop a new K-20 technology network, the supplemental budget provides:
"This budget recognizes the critical importance of education
to the future of our state," Lowry said. "It also demonstrates
our commitment to helping students succeed in today's changing
Lowry applauded the Legislature for providing $1.3 million to fund a new Puget Sound Action Team, which will assume oversight responsibilities from the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority for protection and cleanup of Puget Sound. In addition, the supplemental budget provides $4 million to support the Jobs in the Environment program, which employs dislocated timber workers to restore critical watershed areas. Both of those efforts were top priorities in the governor's environmental agenda for 1996.
In response to the devastation caused by this winter's heavy storms and flooding, the budget provides $22.1 million to meet state and local matching-fund requirements for receipt of federal assistance.
In addition to the $7.7 million specifically earmarked for local assistance, county and city governments can also qualify for additional funding from other dedicated accounts to help repair roads, bridges, sewer systems, and other facilities damaged by the flooding. Lowry said he was pleased that the Legislature followed his recommendation to help local governments meet matching-fund requirements for federal assistance.
"Many jurisdictions were hit so hard that they simply could
not afford their usual share of the costs," Lowry said. "With
this budget we can move forward with providing assistance to local
areas without delay."
Although Congress and the President have not yet reached agreement on a plan to balance the federal budget, the first wave of federal cost-cutting efforts has already reached the state. Washington's supplemental operating budget reflects Lowry's request for stop-gap funding to address immediate problems caused by these cutbacks, including:
In a veto message affecting certain portions of the operating
budget, Lowry complimented lawmakers for their "responsible
action in recognizing some of the funding shortfalls caused by
congressional budget reductions." He warned, however, that
federal cutbacks may result in further "funding shortfalls
this fall, possibly even necessitating a special legislative session."
Federal cutbacks aside, the 1996 Legislature left the governor with an immediate challenge in deciding how to meet unanticipated construction costs, since lawmakers adjourned in March without approving a supplemental capital budget. While some projects will be delayed until next year, Lowry determined that others - particularly critical repairs and reconstruction work at two juvenile rehabilitation centers - require immediate action.
To meet those costs, Lowry vetoed $9.9 million in savings assumed in the operating budget for DSHS and directed the department to use those funds to offset capital expenditures at the Green Hill and Maple Lane juvenile rehabilitation facilities.
In other veto actions, the governor:
For more information, contact the Governor's Communications Office at 753-6790.