Senate releases its proposed 2021-23 operating budget

March 25, 2021

Today, the Senate released its proposed 2021-23 operating budget. The House will release its budget tomorrow, March 26. We will release another edition of Inside Olympia tomorrow to offer a comparison of the Senate and House budgets.

When we began session, there were still many questions about how the state would fare with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, since then we know that consumer spending and overall economic resiliency has held steady since the fall. The March revenue forecast revealed that there is $1.34 billion increase in revenue for the 2019-21 biennium and $1.9 billion increase for the 2021-23 biennium. This is certainly a very different outlook than we expected! Read on for the budget highlights or see our full detailed budget comparison.

The big budget picture

This positive outlook is certainly reflected in the Senate’s $59.2 billion budget proposal. It increases funding for vital state services, including targeted support for the state’s pandemic recovery efforts, along with investments in the public health system, housing and homelessness, police accountability, education and the environment. Other notable areas include health care, behavioral health, long-term care and developmental disabilities and human services. The budget also leverages $7.7 billion in one-time federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Along with this, the Senate’s budget envisions new state revenue in the form of a new capital gains tax – a 7% tax on the sale of long-term capital assets.

This year’s budget exercise is not over! After the House releases its 2021-23 operating budget tomorrow, both chambers will begin negotiating a final budget. Everyone’s fingers are crossed that they complete this before the last day of the regular session, which is Sunday, April 25.

Budget Highlights

COVID-19 Response

  • $150 million for foundational public health services
  • $1 billion in federal funding for vaccination and other pandemic responses
  • $100 million in federal money to bolster the state’s public health workforce

Difficult To Discharge

  • $454 million in combined state and federal funds to increase vendor rates for nursing homes, assisted living centers, and adult family homes. Of this, it includes $2.4 million in state funds to support specialty dementia care rate add-on.

  • $30 million in state funds to eliminate the waiting list for clients needing services from the state’s Developmental Disabilities Administration.

Behavioral Health and Other Health Care

  • $170 million in combined funding to implement a variety of strategies, including work to continue adding more beds in community-based settings, increased Medicaid reimbursement rates, and additional crisis response supports. The budget also adopts language that WSHA has been advocating for that establishes a sustainable rate methodology for hospitals caring for patients on 90- and 180-day civil commitment orders.

  • $50 million to increase reimbursement rates for pediatricians, primary care providers, and dentists.

  • $100 million in federal funds to make purchasing health insurance on the Health Benefit Exchange more affordable (premium assistance).

House and Senate releases their proposed 2021-23 capital budget

Yesterday, the House released its proposed 2021-23 capital budget. It proposes to appropriate $5.7 billion in investments for the next two years. Today, the Senate released its historic $6.2 billion investment in priority infrastructure across the state. Both budgets fund a variety of projects, including behavioral health, broadband, affordable housing, early learning and the environment.

Some highlights of state capital investments include:

Behavioral health


  • $73 million for a competitive grant program to expand community-based behavioral health services. Of this, $18 million is for hospitals (excluding IMD facilities) and freestanding evaluation and treatment facilities to increase bed capacity for patients on 90- and 180-day civil commitment orders.

  • $23 million for community based behavioral health projects.

  • $132.5 million for a range of behavioral health state facilities, such as a new forensic hospital at Western State Hospital, a 48-bed facility in Clark County, a 16-bed facility in Maple Lane, capital improvements to existing state facilities.


  • $68 million for a competitive grant program to expand community-based behavioral health services. Of this, $18 million is for hospitals (excluding IMD facilities) and freestanding evaluation and treatment facilities to increase bed capacity for patients on 90- and 180-day civil commitment orders.

  • $104 million for a range of behavioral health facilities, such as a new forensic hospital at Western State Hospital and four 16-bed facilities for civil commitment and step-down patients


  • House: $155 million to improve and expand broadband access to un- and under-served communities.

  • Senate: $50 million to expand broadband to rural and underserved areas


  • House: $5 million to address inequity in the capital grant program. This includes prioritizing grants in racially diverse neighborhoods, in both urban and rural areas.

  • Senate: $13.3 million for a Community Relief Fund, $3 million for the Communities for Concern Commission, and $3 million for technical assistance grants for the Building Communities funds – all aimed at increasing access to state grants

Similar to the operating budget, capital budget writers will soon form a conference committee to negotiate the final 2021-23 capital budget. We expect this budget to be completed within the next few weeks.

Read our full budget details document for more information.


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