Prioritizing Equity in FY2021 Washington State Budget

Summary – The 21st District Democrats call on both chambers of the Washington State Legislature and the Governor’s office to prioritize a lens of equity and justice for the underserved when developing the FY2021 State Budget, and charting a course of recovery from the ongoing health and economic crises, without imposing ineffective and inequitable austerity measures. Policy should be about people – our tax structure ought to reflect that value. 

Whereas the Washington State Legislature will be tasked with fixing the entirety of our state economy, not just balancing a budget. The financial forecast for Washington state is dire, with a potential revenue shortfall of $2.8 billion in the remaining biennium, possibly reaching between $8-9 billion by 2023. The overlapping health and economic crises will continue to impact families’ everyday activities and behaviors, and the State Legislature will need to be responsive to the changing needs of our families, especially those who rely most heavily on government assistance and resources. An austerity approach is one that prioritizes budget cuts in order to avoid a deficit in times of economic downturn. But no matter what, the extent of this economic crisis cannot be fixed through budget cuts — the math just does not add up. It would be impossible to cut discretionary spending enough to make up for the projected revenue deficits.  

Whereas the impacts of the COVID-19 health crisis have not only exposed but exacerbated existing racial and economic inequities across our state. Extensive research has documented widespread racial disparities in health outcomes for communities of color across the United States, and COVID-19 has been no exception. People of color in Washington state suffer higher rates of pre-existing health conditions that increase vulnerability to this virus and are experiencing disproportionate case infection and fatality rates. Layered on top of these health disparities are the devastating economic disparities that have been exacerbated by these crises. This hardship is especially true for many of the frontline essential workers. In order to get our state out of these crises, we must center our most vulnerable residents, and those most impacted by these intersecting crises. 

Whereas austerity measures imposed in Washington after the 2008 financial crisis prioritized short-term budget balancing over long-term fiscal stability. The State Legislature in 2008 thought that short-term cuts could suffice to see Washington out of the financial crisis. But by 2013 we had not recovered sufficiently, and the unaddressed roots of our state’s regressive revenue structures were laid bare. Not only is austerity not monetarily sufficient to lead us out of this crisis — but it is not just or equitable. The upcoming budget decisions must be augmented with a strategy for implementing new progressive revenue streams, and with an eye towards protecting critical services. 

Whereas we must continue to lead our nation in progressive policies that center the most vulnerable. 

Resolved: We, the 21st Legislative District Democrats, demand that the Washington State Legislature (especially our three elected representatives from the 21st District), REJECT an austerity approach in passing the FY2021 supplemental budget and the 2021-23 biennial budget. Instead, the budget should be constructed based on equity and justice for the underserved.

Sponsor: 21st District Democrats Issues & Educations Committee, chair: Peter Henry

Original Author: Senator Joe Nguyen, 34th Legislative District