House Democrats put tax increases in education bill, not budget


House Democrats on Thursday night moved quickly to pass a “compromise” operating budget they had unveiled in a press conference only a day earlier. This was followed just hours later by passage of a companion education bill that would replace several of the same revenue features dropped from the earlier budget measure.

Leaders of the Republican-led Majority Caucus in the Senate, meanwhile, held a brief press conference of their own on Thursday afternoon, announcing that they, too, had constructed a budget compromise. Majority Leader Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue) declined to reveal details of that offer, saying he preferred to negotiate at the bargaining table and not in the press.

The Washington State Legislature is currently nearing the end of a 30-special session made necessary when the 105-day regular session failed to produce a budget agreement. The special session is scheduled for adjournment on June 11 and the state constitution requires there be a budget passed before July 1.

The House Democrats’ budget plan, which passed by a vote of 53-35 with nine excused, calls for between $700 and $800 million in education spending over the next two school years, as required by last year’sMcCleary decision in the Washington State Supreme Court, and paid for largely with four tax increases.

The Democrats’ original budget proposal asked for more than $1 billion in new education spending paid for by imposing 11 different tax hikes. Much of what was taken out of the budget, however, would be replaced in an education bill passed by the same House around 11 p.m. on Thursday.

The school funding measure would bring the Democrats’ K-12 spending commitment back to $1 billion by eliminating several tax preferences, including a requirement that nonresidents apply for sales tax refunds instead of getting them automatically.

“We made a significant commitment to education in our regular budget, but we didn’t go far enough,” said Rep. Pat Sullivan (D-Covington). “This bill helps us get to $1 billion. The McCleary decision was a game-changer, and we’re going to have to be more inventive from now on.”

“There’s nothing new or bold in this plan,” countered Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama). “It’s simply a tax increase, and we’ve see lots of those.

“We hear the other side talk about helping the kids,” he continued. “And that sounds great. But a tax increase will cost jobs, and you can’t help kids by making it more difficult for employers to hire their parents.”

Republicans also argued that the education money should be rolled into the main budget bill rather than included in a separate spending measure and criticized a proposal to transfer nearly $400 million from the capital budget for public works projects.

“We believe education should be funded first,” Orcutt said. “But if you fund all of your other programs with normal budget revenues but need a tax increase to fund education, you’re putting education last, not first.”

“We’re here to to one thing during this session, and that’s to fully fund education,” added Rep. Cathy Dahlquist (R-Eatonville). “But this bill doesn’t do that. It holds our kids hostage to a tax increase.”

“This is a ‘trailer bill’ that puts our kids in the trailer when they deserve to be riding up front,” said Rep. Gary Alexander (R-Olympia). “It takes tax dollars from our economy and kills jobs when we don’t have enough jobs as it is.”

House Republicans prefer a plan similar to the budget passed weeks ago by the Republican-led Majority Caucus in the Senate. That budget would earmark $1.4 billion for new education funding by making cuts to social programs rather than raising taxes.

GOP leaders say they must balance the court’s demands to spend more on schools with the public’s repeated rejection of new taxes. Alexander said House Democrats were trying to circumvent the will of the voters by attaching an emergency clause to the education funding bill, which would exempt it from a referendum on the general election ballot next fall.

“What are you afraid of?” he asked. “If this is such a great thing, why are you shutting the voters out of the process rather than letting them validate your choice?”

The House was scheduled to reconvene on Friday at noon.


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