Column: House Democrats pass plan to address McCleary, but is it serious?

Almost two months into the 2017 legislative session, and three weeks after the Republican senate majority passed their own fix, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed their education-spending plan last week.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to take their plan seriously.

For starters, the House has not passed a way to pay for the $7 billion bill they are asking taxpayers to foot. If Gov. Jay Inslee has his way, it’ll be paid for with what the Tax Foundation reports could be a highly volatile capital gains tax, a new carbon tax, and a big tax increase on small businesses.

As lawmakers move toward negotiations to reconcile the two plans and hammer out a bipartisan deal, Democratic House leaders are making that job harder when they can’t even prove that they have the votes to pay for their wish list. How will they convince Republicans opposed to significantly raising taxes to change their minds when there is no evidence that the House majority has the votes to do so as well?

The other major issue with the House plan is that it doesn’t address the underlying issue of equity and fairness, as laid out by the Washington Supreme Court in the McCleary case.

As the Legislature continually underfunded basic education at the state level leading up to the 2012 court ruling, school districts were forced to seek additional funds through local levies to make up the difference. Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, expressed his concern about this approach and said this led to poorer districts paying as much as 2-3 times more for their schools than their richer counterparts.

For far too long, your zip code has determined the quality of your education in Washington and it’s a problem Senate Republicans have set out to permanently fix with their plan that reports show would raise the state property tax while imposing a 10 percent lid on local levies that can be used for non-basic education spending items.

Under the Senate plan, most families would see a decrease in their property taxes, while some in cities like Seattle, Bellevue, and Mercer Island would see an increase.

House Democrats passed a plan that not only doesn’t address our levy fairness problem, but it actually has no safeguard to prevent another constitutional crisis. They place a 24 percent levy lid on local districts, which all but guarantees that poor districts will get poorer and rich districts will get richer.

The Washington State Democratic Party platform calls for a progressive tax structure. We hear a lot from them about making sure the wealthy are paying their fair share.

Yet Democrats in Olympia are adamantly opposed to asking homeowners with richer property values to pay their fair share for our schools, or even preventing the problem from spiraling out of control again.

That is why it’s hard to take what the House Democrats are proposing seriously, because it doesn’t solve anything. It’s an expensive, unfunded bill to the taxpayers that will eventually lead to another court case and education-funding crisis.

So where is this headed? The Legislature has self-imposed a deadline to get McCleary done this year, but the court has told lawmakers that they have to fully fund education by the 2018 school year.

Complicating matters even more is a special election this November to replace the late Republican Senator Andy Hill in the swing Legislative District 45. With Republicans holding a one-seat majority in the senate, losing this seat would give Democrats the majority in both chambers.

Could Democrats force the Legislature to once again kick the can down the road with hopes that they can control the whole process next year by winning the senate majority?

Let’s hope not.

Keith Schipper is a Washington GOP strategist and columnist for the Washington State Wire. You can reach him at info@washingtonstatewire.com

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