GOP leaders defend education funding plan, criticize Democrats’ plan

After facing criticism for their budget plan, Republican leaders defended their education funding proposal Monday at a press conference, and made their own criticisms of the Democrat’s levy cliff bill.

Washington GOP legislators’ plan is to implement something of a “levy swap” to fund education in Washington.

Background

Senate Republicans announced their plan Jan. 27 and it’s since passed through the Senate. But, the numbers they had in their initial budget didn’t match with staff reports.

Melissa Santos explains in a Feb. 14 article for The Olympian:

“When releasing their plan in late January, GOP budget leaders said their new statewide property tax would raise about $2 billion per two-year budget cycle, while reducing local school district levies by $2.4 billion statewide during the same period. Republican leaders said they would make up the difference in local school district funding levels with backfill payments of about $1.4 billion every two years.

A separate analysis prepared by nonpartisan House staff last week contained another set of numbers, but still estimated that the amount of money the state pays districts per student would increase under the Senate Republican plan.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia and the Senate’s chief budget writer, said nonpartisan staff informed him last Monday that there might be an issue with the Senate’s calculations. That was after the Senate already passed the school-funding plan off the floor, and the same day the proposal was heard in the House Appropriations Committee.

Democratic lawmakers criticized Braun on Tuesday for not informing them of the errors in the Senate’s analysis early last week.

Democrats have also pressed lawmakers on what’s referred to as the “levy cliff.”

School districts are fast-approaching a deadline for their budgets, and they have yet to nail down what their budgets will look like since lawmakers are still determining how they will fund education. In the meantime, Democrats want to assure schools that the budgets they rely on, through levies, will remain intact by delaying the “levy cliff.”

Republican press conference

While admitting their plan wasn’t perfect, Republicans defended it as the best way to meet the needs of the McCleary decision.

“I think we’re going to be constantly working on those numbers until the bill finally passes this year,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, Ritzville, at the conference. “But every time we do it we’ll pay for it with real budget dollars, not unicorn gold.”

Republicans also pushed back on Democrats’ levy cliff bill, saying it’s the wrong solution.

“By doing the levy cliff thing alone you’re taking the foot off the gas pedal as far as solving the actual problem,” said Rep. Dan Kristiansen, Snohomish, at the press conference. “The levy cliff bill just postpones the problem. And that’s what we’ve been trying to avoid”

Rep. Matt Manweller, Ellensburg, argued pushing the levy cliff back could bring the legislature right back to court.

“I am baffled that after 10 years of talking about McCleary, that the house Democrats would propose a solution that guarantees that we will not solve McCleary and be back in court,” he said at the conference. “You cannot have 24 percent levy authority and still meet the dictates of the McCleary Decision.”

Schoesler said the premise of the argument for the levy cliff bill was unfounded.

“I guarantee you this legislature will increase education funding in the end,” he said. “So the need to riff really isn’t even there.”

They also argued that while the Democrats have proposed an education funding plan, they haven’t yet revealed how they’ll fund it.

Erin Fenner: erin@washingtonstatewire.com, @erinfenner

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