Inslee signs budgets that give big boosts to behavioral health, education, orcas, homelessness and clean energy


Gov. Jay Inslee signed new state spending plans today that bolster major reforms and expansions in behavioral health, education, orca recovery, affordable housing and climate action. The 2019–21 operating, capital and transportation budgets that the Legislature approved late last month followed many of the key priorities Inslee outlined at the start of the legislative session.

Here’s a breakdown of how the budget will impact keys areas:


Inslee thanked legislators for their efforts to significantly expand funding and support over the past several years for early learning, K-12 and higher education.

Gov. Jay Inslee signs the 2019–21 operating budget that legislators approved last month. (Office of the Governor photo)

“I appreciate that legislators on both sides of the aisle have come together time and again in support of our children, our educators and our schools,” Inslee said at the start of Tuesday’s budget signing session. “The details on these policies matter a lot, and it wasn’t always easy or fast to reach agreement. I want to give a heartfelt thank you to legislators and the many stakeholder groups and Washingtonians who have kids’ backs and were ready to do the hard work.”

The new 2019–21 operating budget makes nation-leading higher education investments through the Workforce Education Investment Act. The act establishes a financial aid program that will help more than 110,000 students attend college for free or at a discounted rate.

Funds will guarantee the Washington College Grant (formerly called the State Need Grant) to all eligible students in the 2020–21 academic year. The new program will allow students from families of incomes up to $50,000 a year to attend college tuition-free, and expands eligibility for partial grants to students with incomes up to the state’s median family income (approximately $92,000 for a family of four).

The program provides the most flexibility of any free college program in the nation. It will better help part-time students who balance classes with things such as work, family care and health issues. The grants can serve students in registered apprenticeships and at any of the state’s private colleges and universities. The bill also allows attendance at college to qualify for the work commitment for those single parents in the Working Connections Child Care program, and extends the mandatory tuition waiver for dependents of service members who died as a result of service.

“The program provides the most flexibility of any free college program in the nation.”

— Gov. Jay Inslee

For students who still need to finance part of their education through loans, this bill creates a state program that allows students to refinance their loans at a lower interest rate.

Rep. Drew Hansen, who sponsored the bill, said the grant removes a large financial obstacle for students.

Gov. Jay Inslee signs the 2019–21 operating budget that legislators approved last month. (Office of the Governor photo)

Legislators also provided funds for the next steps of Inslee’s Career Connect Washington initiative. Career-connected learning gives students more pathways to good-paying careers through a statewide system for apprenticeship, internship and mentorship learning. Inslee set a goal to connect 100,000 Washington students with career-connect learning opportunities by 2027. The legislature funds these investments with a targeted surcharge agreed to by business leaders. These business leaders depend on the state’s colleges and universities to train and educate students for careers in law, engineering, technology and more.

Lawmakers also approved a 6 percent rate increase for ECEAP providers and expanded a program that provides intensive home visiting services for families to help determine if the program needs additional resources and support.

(Office of Financial Management graphic)

The bulk of new spending in the state’s operating budget supports the full-funding plan for K-12 basic education. Beyond basic education, legislators also approved funds for special education, and additional school counselors and behavioral health coordination for students facing social or emotional challenges at school.

Funds will support school employee health care as well. Last year, legislators approved a plan to move educators to a new statewide health care plan. The budget implements the School Employee Benefits Board, a new state program that consolidates and funds health care and other insurance benefits for school employees across the state.

Lawmakers also approved legislation that protects the ability of local communities to invest in more local levy funding to enhance K-12 programs and services, with voter approval. And, the state’s new capital budget makes a historic investment toward K-12 school construction.

Behavioral health

Transforming Washington’s struggling behavioral health system has been one of Inslee’s top budget priorities. He laid out a plan to transform the state’s outdated facilities and model of care to one that emphasizes smaller, community-based facilities and services. This will ensure more patients can get better care.

One major challenge in the state’s system is the lack of appropriate placements for patients who are ready to leave the hospital but still require some level of support to stay well. The backup at the exit doors results in a backup of patients trying to enter. The budget will expand and create new discharge facilities in the community. The state hopes to secure approximately 600 placements in facilities such as adult family homes, state-operated living alternatives and newly-created intensive behavioral health facilities.

Gov. Jay Inslee and Speaker of the House Frank Chopp take a photo after the governor signed the operating budget. This is the last session that Chopp presided over as the house speaker. (Office of the Governor photo)

Lawmakers also increased the number of long-term inpatient civil commitments in the community by adding approximately 120 beds in community hospitals and evaluation and treatment centers. This investment builds upon the 48 beds that were funded during the 2017–19 biennium, and it takes a big step forward in moving civil commitments into the community.

Cheryl Strange, secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services, said the investments will make a huge difference in people’s lives.

“This budget will help us in our work attending to aging Washingtonians, allow for capital investments supporting those in our facilities, and give us the means to develop the skills of providers who support our clients in the community,” Strange said. “This budget also has big wins for behavioral health and community capacity. It truly sets us on the path to transforming all aspects of behavioral health in Washington.”

Legislators are expanding community-based treatment and services such as mental health drop-in facilities, clubhouses (peer-to-peer spaces where people with lived experiences connect) and crisis services. This helps more patients get treatment before they reach a crisis point and need to be civilly committed. The budget also expands the availability of diversion programs that will prevent people with mental illness from languishing in the criminal justice system. And for patients who are required to receive forensic treatment, legislators have approved construction of an additional 60 forensic beds at the state hospitals and approved planning funds for a new forensic hospital.

Capital funds will support the creation of a behavioral health campus at the University of Washington. This not only provides additional treatment capacity but it will also significantly increase the state’s behavioral health workforce. This first-in-the-nation behavioral health campus will train the next generation of behavioral health workers.

Gov. Jay Inslee signs the 2019–21 operating budget on May 21, 2019. Legislators approved the budget last month. (Office of the Governor photo)

Southern Resident orcas and salmon recovery

Lawmakers approved many of the bold investments Inslee proposed to support recovery efforts for salmon and critically endangered South Resident orca populations. The operating, capital and transportation budgets will fund a wide range of programs and projects that will help restore habitat, reduce barriers to salmon migration, boost salmon hatchery production and expand pollution prevention and cleanup efforts.

Besides helping orcas and salmon, the more than $900 million investments will significantly benefit the region’s entire ecosystem and complement efforts to tackle climate change, improve water quality and more.

During the signing, Inslee expressed disappointment that legislators failed to fund culvert repairs, one of the most crucial investments for restoring spawning runs and aiding salmon recovery.

The most recent data from March states there are 75 Southern Resident orcas left. According to the Marine Mammal Commission, the historical population may have numbered more than 200 animals before the 21st century, which is when modern impacts started to impact the orca population. (Photo courtesy of Ken Rea and the Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Inslee had proposed $275 million for repairing culverts around the state. This would set the state on a path to fulfilling the multi-billion obligation that the state’s Supreme Court ordered. But legislators only provided $100 million. Inslee said today that the failure is unacceptable. He ordered the state Department of Transportation to use re-appropriations from the current biennum to start work on the first tranche of more than 400 culvert repair projects.

“This is a matter of urgency,” Inslee said. “And not just because the courts have told us so. The fate of our salmon is intrinsically tied to our tribes, our orca, our economy and our very identity. I fully expect legislators to give this issue the serious consideration it deserves when they return next session, and deliver an adequate and ongoing funding plan to get this job done.”

Attorney General Bob Ferguson praised the governor’s efforts to keep the state on track, and called on the Legislature to do its part to protect salmon.

“The Legislature needs to get serious about meeting its court-ordered obligation,” Ferguson said. “Today’s announcement is positive news, but much more must be done to address this challenge. Subsequent budgets will require a significantly larger appropriation to remain on track. Additionally, local governments should also make the necessary, significant investments to fix their broken culverts in order to maximize the impact for salmon and the orcas that rely on salmon as a food source.”


Affordability and availability of housing drive the rise of homelessness and impact communities all across the state. The current supply of low-income housing units isn’t sufficient to house low-income and vulnerable individuals and families.

Sen. Christine Rolfes (right) and other attendees pose for a photo after Gov. Jay Inslee signs the 2019–21 operating budget. (Office of the Governor photo)

Additional funding for the state’s Housing Trust Fund will build up to 4,100 new affordable housing units and preserve as many as 500 aging affordable housing units. These will serve a broad spectrum of vulnerable populations, including individuals with chronic mental illness who need supportive housing and case management services, homeless families, youth and individuals, veterans, farmworkers, seniors and individuals with special needs.

Meanwhile, local governments and homeless service providers will be able to provide rent assistance to about 1,000 additional vulnerable individuals. In addition, about 135 additional families will receive permanent supportive housing services from the state.

Other budget highlights

The budget funds the governor’s ambitious clean energy and climate package.

Finally, legislators approved a modest, new transportation budget that includes funding for a new 144-car hybrid electric ferry and conversion of up to two existing ferries to hybrid-electric propulsion. The transportation budget will reopen the I-5 Columbia River bridge project office, which will enable Washington and Oregon to resume preliminary work on the bi-state project. Lawmakers also provided funding for continued analysis of building an ultra-high-speed rail project that would link Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.

“These budgets represent what can happen when legislators work together and prioritize the needs of our students, our natural resources, our people and our future,” Inslee said. “Budgets are statements of values and I am proud of what these budgets mean for today’s Washingtonians and for future generations.”

To view the veto letters from today’s budget signings, visit the Office of Financial Management website.