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Washington Senate’s budget-writing panel gets a new leader


Washington Senate’s budget-writing panel gets a new leader

Sep 21, 2023 | 4:57 pm ET
By Jerry Cornfield
Washington Senate’s budget-writing panel gets a new leader
Washington state Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, speaking on the Senate floor, March 29, 2023 (Legislative Support Services)

Sen. June Robinson, an Everett Democrat, was named Thursday as the new chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, the budget-writing panel responsible for developing tax policies and deciding how the state spends billions of dollars each year.

Robinson, the committee vice chair for the operating budget and revenue the last three sessions, was chosen in a morning meeting of the Senate Democratic Caucus. The full Senate will confirm the selection when it convenes in January for the 2024 session.

She will succeed Christine Rolfes, who left the Senate earlier this year following her appointment to the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners.

“It’s an honor that the caucus trusts me enough to do this job,” Robinson said in an interview.

Robinson is in her 10th year representing the 38th Legislative District, which includes Everett, Marysville, and the Tulalip Reservation. She was appointed to the House of Representatives in 2013 to fill the vacancy created by Rep. John McCoy’s move to the Senate. When he retired in 2020, she was chosen to succeed him.

Since entering the Legislature, Robinson’s proven a talented negotiator on budgets and complex policy. 

While in the House, she worked with Senate Republicans to pass a law enabling the eventual launch of the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program. In the Senate, she sponsored the capital gains tax and helped craft a compromise on a nurse staffing bill.

She also authored the overhaul of state law guiding penalties and treatment options for people caught possessing illegal drugs or using them in public. Divisions over the bill, dubbed the Blake fix, forced lawmakers into a one-day special session earlier this year.

In the upcoming 60-day session, lawmakers will craft a supplemental budget that makes adjustments to the two-year spending plan they approved last year.

Robinson said the biggest fiscal challenge lawmakers will face is shoring up the state’s behavioral health system, which is under scrutiny from what’s known as the Trueblood lawsuit and a related settlement agreement.

The state Department of Social and Health Services has faced bed shortages and an influx of patients due to the court-monitored agreement which set guidelines and timelines that the state must follow for giving people competency evaluations. 

Separately, nearly two dozen counties sued the state agency last month, claiming it is refusing to provide essential behavioral health treatment to hundreds of patients who are considered unfit for trial.

Other areas, including the “record levels of people unable to afford housing” and public schools, will need attention in 2024, Robinson said.

And she said she’s “honestly not sure” how lawmakers will handle the extra money generated from the sale of pollution allowances through the Climate Commitment Act.

“I think it’s too new,” she said. “Any change would be a big lift and hard to get done in a supplemental budget.”

Proposals to return some of those dollars to vehicle owners via a cash rebate or temporary reduction of car tab renewal fees “will certainly get discussed,” she said. “I don’t know if there is anything that will rise to the top and get the votes needed for passage.”