Advocacy Update: Budget Scenario

Amber Ulvenes
WCAAP Legislative Liaison

The House and Senate have both released their proposed operating budgets for the 2019-2021 biennium, and though revenue income has continued to grow, the legislature needed to make some tough decisions as caseload growth and bow waves from the current biennium created a several-billion-dollar shortfall. Both budgets depend on making reductions and passing new taxes to make them balance. The House version includes a 9.9% capital gains tax and increases business and occupation (B&O) tax rate from 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent for physician practices (which WCAAP is opposing), and other sectors that rely heavily on educated workers. In order to meet similar levels, the Senate proposal includes an 8.9 percent capital gains tax that would not add to state revenue, but rather offset tax cuts and other reductions. Lawmakers are now entering negotiations that will take several weeks or more to reconcile the differences between the two budgets.

For the WCAAP priority agenda items, both budgets are a disappointment. Neither budget funds Medicaid-Medicare parity for kids’ access to primary care, nor Medicaid-Medicare parity for behavioral health codes that would create integrated access. The House version does include a 10% increase for behavioral health codes, however. Though it’s unlikely that we will reach parity levels this year, we are continuing to advocate strongly for additional access funding through the reconciliation process. Please respond to action alerts during these last few weeks of the session!

There is good news to be shared, however! Our chapter goal of passing Tobacco 21 though the legislature has come to fruition and will be signed into law by Governor Inslee this Friday! Together with our partners, our advocacy made this happen. After years of testifying, advocacy days and individual legislator contacts, we can celebrate this satisfying victory that will improve health for years to come.