Bill would help fund schools by closing tax loopholes

Twenty-sixth District Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, has offered a plan to fund education based on military strategy.

Seaquist, a former battleship captain and Pentagon strategist, suggests a Washington state version of the successful federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC).

Tasked by the Legislature to hold public hearings, the tax priorities realignment commission would identify tax exemptions, which could be closed in favor of funding specific education-improvement objectives.

Their proposal would then be sent to the voters for final approval.

Seaquist envisions moving $1 billion each year from tax exemptions to specific education improvements.

“Education is our state’s ladder out of this deep economic hole,” Seaquist said. “We must stop cutting education. End to end, from early learning to K-12 to higher education, the prospects both for our young students and all our adults who are un- or under-employed are being damaged by the cuts we’ve had to force on our education system. We must act, or hamstring the future of our state for generations to come.

“The plan is simple,” said Seaquist of his proposal, House Bill 1980.

He outlines a four-step public process:

• Educators nominate their next, “best-dollar” investment would buy — what educational improvements from early learning to higher education they can deliver for how much money.

• The Legislature selects a balanced package of those ideas adding up to about a billion dollars a year in outcome-focused increments and sends that package to the public commission.

• The commission holds public hearings across the state to select a set of lower-priority, less-effective tax exemptions and loopholes to be closed to produce the required funds.

• The Legislature sends that package to state voters for an up-or-down vote.

Seaquist calls this an, “apple-to-apple” tradeoff.

“Tax exemptions are intended to create economic benefit for someone, education creates economic benefit for everyone,” Seaquist said. “For the first time, my bill provides a way for all our citizens to participate in setting priorities about how best to climb out of this recession.”

Seaquist is asking for a statewide discussion of this idea.

“I ask everyone to contact their own legislator,” he said. “Tell them if you like this bold new approach or how you could improve it. We need everyone in the state thinking about how to ensure that our education system is delivering everything the people of this state need to thrive in the 21st Century economy.”

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