Washington Research Council analyzes $43.7 Billion state budget: Big increase in education spending, nearly $1 billion reserve

The Washington Research Council has released its analysis of the adopted 2017-19 state budget. It underscores the Legislature’s commitment to full funding of basic education.

On June 30, the Legislature passed an operating budget for 2017–19. It appropriates $43.707 billion for the biennium, which is an increase of … $5.254 billion (13.7 percent) over 2015–17 (including the 2016 supplemental). Appropriations for public schools increase by 20.7 percent over 2015–17 while appropriations for everything else increase by 7.3 percent.

So, K-12 grew at three times the rate of the rest of the budget. The WRC notes the analysis does not include the governor’s vetoes. 

The increase in the state property tax provided the largest bump in state revenues. Recall that the increase is partially offset by reductions in local levies.

As passed by the Legislature, the budget increases revenues by a net of $2.079 billion in 2017–19. Of that, $1.614 billion comes from an increase to the state property tax.

The WRC also points out the substantial reserve cushion left at the end of the biennium.

The budget leaves an unre- stricted ending fund balance of $985 million and total reserves (including the rainy day fund) of $2.143 billion in 2017– 19. EHB 2190 allows the Legislature to transfer up to $1.078 billion in extraordi- nary revenue growth from the BSA to the GFS in 2017–19—as noted above, the amount of extraordinary revenue growth is estimated to be $898 million, so the budget transfers that amount to the GFS. Also, EHB 2190 requires the transfer of $925.2 million from the BSA to the pen- sion funding stabilization account and $19.0 million from the BSA to the disas- ter response account.

There’s a lot of good, detailed analysis packed into the 6-page brief, presented clearly and concisely. We recommend it to those who want to dig a little deeper into the state budget. The WRC concludes,

With the deadline to comply with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision looming, the Legislature needed to agree this year on the most difficult piece—salaries—while also determining the rest of the biennial budget.

The end result is a budget with an even sharper focus on education. NGFS+ appropriations for public schools are$21.969 billion in 2017–19, or 50.3 percent of the NGFS+ budget. (In 2015–17, public schools spending was 47.3 percent of the NGFS+ budget.) Of the NGFS+ spending increase from 2015–17 to 2017–19, 71.8 percent goes to public schools.

The state Supreme Court will soon receive the state’s report on McCleary compliance. The governor and lawmakers believe they’ve fulfilled their obligation.

The WRC also looks at requirements for studies and audits tucked into the budget bill.