Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday released a budget proposal aimed at addressing equity and systemic racism, the first of several to be released as part of his overall state budget plan this week.
The plan includes $26 million toward the establishment of a proposed new office to conduct investigations of police use of excessive force and $2.5 million for the state Equity Office that was created by the Legislature earlier this year. The equity office — created after voters last year reaffirmed a ban on affirmative action — will help state agencies develop and implement diversity plans across state government.
“The consciousness of the nation has been raised in the last several months, against inequity in many forms, from criminal justice to the economy, from the environment to education, and to the provision of health care,” Inslee said at a news conference unveiling the plan. “We have a moral mandate here in Washington state to acknowledge these hard truths and lay the solid foundation needed to correct these long-term injustices.”
Inslee, who was elected to a third term last month, is releasing his state budget this week in several stages ahead of the legislative session that begins Jan. 11. The Democratic-controlled House and Senate will each present their own budget proposals during the 105-day legislative session.
Lawmakers have already been drafting bills related to police reform following police-brutality protests that were sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May.
Inslee is also proposing putting $10 million into the state's COVID-19 immigrant relief fund, to add on the $62 million in federal money that has already been allocated for economic support for workers who have been unable to access other relief programs because of their immigration status.
He's also proposing that June 19 be declared a legal holiday and proposes $221,000 in funding to cover the costs of maintaining services on that day. Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free.
Other areas that the equity proposal includes are:
- Spending $79 million to support residential broadband for families with students who need access to technology for remote schooling during the pandemic.
- An effort to increase minority contractors for state projects.
- Allocating $8.4 million to provide grants, mentorship and support services to college students or apprentices who were in foster care or experienced homelessness.
- Support of a bill that seeks to ban the use of credit scores to determine rates for auto, homeowner, renter or boat insurance.
- Spending $674,0000 for the Department of Financial Institutions to work financial institutions to help address racial wealth inequities and work with underserved populations on financial literacy.
- A focus on communities most impacted by climate change, including the creation of a permanent environmental justice and equity advisory panel.
Lawmakers will be faced with a tough budget task next month, as the state has seen a dramatic decrease in state revenues due to business closures because of restrictions imposed during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Updated numbers by the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council last month show that projected revenue collections through mid-2023 are nearly $2.4 billion below what was projected before the pandemic hit.