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Should legislators ignore Supreme Court’s recent McCleary ruling?

Following the Supreme Court’s most recent McCleary ruling, Governor Inslee has repeatedly made it clear that his goal is to get the state in compliance with the legislature’s self imposed timeline this year. His proposed supplemental budget aims to take nearly $1 billion from state reserves for teacher salary allocations, and revenue from his proposed carbon tax would be used as a one time replacement of those reserves.

There are a variety of opinions as to the best way to get the state in compliance, with a carbon tax being perhaps the most contentious. While many options will be weighed and negotiated during the session, there are some Republicans in both the House and Senate who have a more direct approach — simply ignore the court altogether.

“My personal opinion is we ignore the court and thank them for their input,” said Representative David Taylor on Tuesday.

Taylor says that the problem with the court’s ruling is that it failed to acknowledge that last year’s HB 2242 was about more than just finding money to put into K-12 education. It included large policy changes, new accounting, auditing provisions, and new levy rates. He says school districts need time to gradually implement these sweeping changes and that the delayed timeline was created for a reason.

“Every time that we force a change, it causes [school districts] problems. So what we came forward with as a legislature was an opportunity to not only begin implementation with some of the early funding, but allow the transition to occur.”

When it comes to spending this kind of money, Senator Mark Shoesler questions if a one time investment in teacher salaries is the best investment for Washington students and schools.

“If we’re going to make an additional investment in K-12, what is the smartest investment,” asked Shoesler. “Is it a one time payment for salaries, or is it other areas? … now that we’ve met the requirements, we should seriously consider, what is the best investment in our kids and their schools?”

With the Supreme Court’s ruling, the state remains in contempt and the court’s $100,000 daily sanction will continue until all funding requirements have been met. However, when looking at this issue simply as a budgetary question, it would save the state money to simply incur those fines for the next year rather than paying a one time $1 billion investment.

“The legislature has the power of the purse, and if you did some real simple math, what you’d see is that 100,000 dollars a day is actually cheaper than 900 million dollars,” said Taylor.

Representative Drew Stokesbary, added,

“If I had a client who lost a billion dollar lawsuit and was told to pay the billion dollars immediately or else pay 100,000 dollars a day for the next year, it would be a violation of my ethical duties as an attorney to advise that client to pay the billion dollars right away when the court has given me a much cheaper alternative,” said Stokesbary.

“I don’t think it’s that unreasonable at this point in time, based on what we know and what the court has said, to take the approach of the cheaper option to protect Washington tax payers and to continue to do what the court has said to do which is set aside 100,000 dollars a day.”

Rep. Taylor says that McCleary negotiators are currently in the process of discussing any technical changes, clarifications, or additional key investments that may need to be made to last year’s HB 2242. He says only when those recommendations are finalized should legislators look at options of investing more money into K-12 education.

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