Democrats criticize GOP education funding bill, call for move on ‘levy cliff’

Democrats expect to move an education funding plan, sponsored by Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, onto the Senate Floor Thursday or early next week, said House Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, Covington, at Democratic Leadership’s weekly press conference Tuesday.

Mullet offers a middle road

Mullet’s plan has been positioned as a moderate alternative to the suggested proposals on the right and left. Joseph O’Sullivan explained Mullet’s plan in a Tuesday article for The Seattle Times:

“Instead of other plans that would reduce local-property tax levies and then find other state revenue to fund education, Mullet’s plan would make the current local tax levies permanent.

Levy dollars from each district would go to the state, which then would send the money to the district.

Then, the state would add about $750 million every two years in levy-equalization assistance, a program used to help out “property-poor” school districts. With lower property values, those districts have less of a tax base to raise money for schools.

Mullet’s plan would also allow local school districts to keep raising some money through local property-tax levies for extra programs or needs that aren’t considered basic education,” according to O’Sullivan’s story.

Democratic leadership discusses options

At the press conference, Democratic leaders criticized the GOP’s education plan as rushed and continued to argue for their levy cliff bill. The numbers in the plan also didn’t add up, Sullivan said.

He said the GOP’s plan is underfunded by $1.4 billion.

“As far as the Republicans’ plan…They are having to take a look at the numbers for a second time,” said Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson, Maury Island.

With so much uncertainty around the budget, it is becoming more important to pass the levy cliff bill so school districts can plan their budgets while the legislature addresses how to fully fund education, Sullivan said.

“If we don’t get that dealt with – if they don’t have some certainty and that levy cliff bill doesn’t pass –you know you’re going to see districts sending out pink slips sooner than later,” he said.

Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, pointed to the similar concerns the Republicans and Democrats had.

“I think both sides have agreed revenue is going to be needed for the plan,” she said at the conference. “I think both sides have acknowledged that our current tax code is unfair. I think both sides have agreed we should ask people to pay their fair share. The wealthy should pay more than poor people and the middle class.”

But again, she emphasized that Democrats consider it critical to pass the levy cliff bill. She said school districts have appealed to lawmakers on this issue.

“What they all consistently ask us for is to pass the levy cliff bill. To give them some short term certainty,” she said.

Erin Fenner: erin@washingtonstatewire.com, @erinfenner

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