Gov. Inslee Announces Budget Proposals to Tackle 'Inequities' Statewide


Gov. Jay Inslee announced a broad set of budget proposals Monday to tackle inequities and address systemic racism across the state.

The proposals include numerous investments in independent police investigations, environmental justice, a state Equity Office, broadband connection and immigrant relief funds.

Monday's announcement is just a first look at Inslee's proposed 2021-23 budget, which is scheduled to be released on Thursday.

"We have a moral mandate in Washington state to acknowledge these hard truths and lay a solid foundation needed to correct these longstanding injustices," Inslee said Monday.

The May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police sparked nationwide protests and discussions on addressing systemic racism. In Washington, the March 3 death of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma during an arrest by police led to similar anger statewide.

These proposals are a response to those calls for action, according to Inslee's policy brief.

Inslee's plans include allocating $26 million toward a new Office of Independent Investigations, which would conduct investigations of police use of excessive force. The idea is already being discussed by lawmakers who are prepared to propose a sweeping police reform legislative package when the session begins in January.

The proposed budget would also spend $2.5 million to fund the state's Equity Office, which was established in the 2020 Legislature to remove barriers to accessing state services and decrease inequities across state government.

The office brings expertise and accountability to many state offices' efforts to implement diversity plans, said state Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, who sponsored the bill last session.

"We aren't serving the most vulnerable and the most marginalized communities well enough," Gregerson said.

Some of the governor's other proposals include:

* Investing $10 million in the state's already established COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund, which provides economic relief to Washington immigrant workers.

* Establishing Juneteenth as a legal holiday.

* Banning insurance companies from using credit scoring in auto, homeowner, renter and boat insurance.

* Spending $79 million to improve broadband access for communities who cannot afford connection in their area.

* Investing in environmental justice and putting communities most affected by climate change, often people of color, at the forefront of those conversations.

Establishing Juneteenth as an official legal holiday would make a "firm statement," Inslee said. The holiday would recognize June 19 as a day to honor the emancipation of those enslaved in the United States in 1865.

Inslee partnered with state Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, who will sponsor a bill this session to recognize the holiday.

"All of Washington should celebrate the end of the atrocity of slavery in this country," Morgan said Monday.

Inslee is also working with Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to eliminate the use of credit scores by insurance companies when deciding rates.

Kreidler said he thinks people would be "shocked" to learn that insurance companies use credit to determine how much a customer has to pay. It's something that unfairly affects people of color, he said, and it is "long, long overdue."

"It's unjust, it's unfair, and it's especially unfair on people as they struggle with the devastating impacts of the pandemic," he said.

Inslee proposed several capital projects, although most are located on the West Side of the state, aside from one project in Yakima. Those projects include improving a park in Yakima that serves as the only green space within walking distance for many families and funding a new food bank in Seattle's Rainier Valley.

He also proposes that $400,000 in capital bonds be used to develop equity strategies to gain a better understanding of racial disparities and operational barriers that exist in state capital programs.

In a time when the state is struggling with a budget deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some proposals with big price tags may be difficult to pass. According to the November budget forecast, projected revenue through the next biennium are reported to be about $2.4 billion below what was originally projected.

Inslee said Monday he will propose a balanced budget, but the final details will not be released until Thursday. Until then, he's unveiling new proposals every day this week.

Other proposals to improve equity will include plans improving access to early childhood education and combating environmental injustices that disproportionately affect people of color.