By Elliot Suhr
WNPA News Service
Local education leaders are applauding Governor Jay Inslee’s proposal to close tax loopholes and generate nearly $200 million in funding for Washington’s public schools.
According to Inslee at a news conference in Olympia Jan. 28, Republican leaders in the Legislature have said they will resist efforts to add to the education budget this year.
He said his proposal would give a 1.3 percent salary increase to teachers and staffs, as well as paying for the reforms that the Legislature has already approved. About $130 million would go directly to school districts to update textbooks, technology and curriculum.
”Without money, reforms aren’t real. They’re just hollow promises. Now is the time to turn those promises into action,” Inslee said.
Eatonville School District superintendent Krestin Bahr said she appreciates the governor’s “support of education and his focus on addressing the (state) Supreme Court’s McCleary decision,” which ordered the Legislature to move faster to fully fund public schools.
“The state is not sufficiently funding basic education,” Bahr said, noting that a recent report by Education Week “confirms this, as Washington is in the bottom 10 of states in terms of per-pupil spending. Even with inadequate funding, our students perform consistently above average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. With appropriate funding, we could greatly accelerate and raise student achievement.”
Bahr said she hopes “all elected officials will consider ways to make significant progress to fully fund education.”
State Sen. Steve Litzow, a Republican from Mercer Island, said it’s unlikely that any parts of the governor’s proposal are likely to make it past the cutoff calendar for legislation to make it through the 2014 session.
”It sounds good to be able to come up with a source,” said state Rep. Eric Pettigrew, a Democrat fromSeattle. “But the challenge is, is it politically viable? I know that we’ve looked at closing a total number of tax loopholes that were larger than this (Inslee-proposed) amount, and it was worse than pulling teeth.”
The tax loopholes that Inslee wants to close would include sales-tax exemptions for automobile trade-ins valued at more than $10,000, a public utility tax deduction for interstate transportation, tax exemption on extracted fuel, refunds of sales tax to non-residents, and sales-tax exemptions for bottled water.
The governor said he was motivated to find new sources of funding in light of the Supreme Court’s recent order that the state needs to move more quickly toward paying the cost of education.
Early last year, the state’s highest court ruled in McCleary v. Washington that the state was not sufficiently funding basic education under the state Constitution.
During the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers budgeted an extra $1 billion for education. An additional $5 billion is needed in the next biennium to meet the demands of the McCleary decision.
Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, a Democrat from Seattle, said legislators “aren’t in a position to not put money towards our McCleary obligations.”
Inslee said he would do whatever he could – short of calling for an extended session of the Legislature this year – to change the minds of lawmakers who oppose an addition to the budget.
”All the good intentions in the world won’t satisfy our clear constitutional imperative to our children,” Inslee said.
The WNPA News Service provides coverage of the Legislature for newspapers, including The Dispatch, that are members of Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.