Local View: Earlier Legislature took schools seriously




For some time I have held off from writing about how the Legislature and the newspapers have and are responding to the McCleary v. Washington case.

The Columbian's editorial on Aug. 10 reviewed the history of the Legislature action for 36 years (or lack thereof) in compliance to Article 9 Section 1 of the Washington Constitution. The editorial page alleges that lawmakers spent three-plus decades giving the 1978 court decision nothing more than a "nod-and a-wink" to the ruling. This is where I vehemently disagree.

The background:

In the 1950s, 1960s and the early part of the '70s, the Legislature was not keeping up funding the increasing costs that school districts were experiencing.

School districts by law were allowed to offer the voters property tax levies without limits as long as they received a 60 percent vote. By the mid-'70s, some districts were asking more from levies than they were receiving from the state and the voters started to say no. Vancouver lost is levies in 1957 and 1963.

School districts took the Legislature to court. Superior Court Judge Doran ruled that the Legislature violated Article 9 Section 1 of the Constitution and gave the Legislature 2 years to buy out the district levies. Districts would be allowed 10 percent levy for the enhancement of the curriculum.

The Legislature responded (NO "nod-and-a-wink") by obligating itself to a $400 million expenditure and giving the state's property-tax payers a corresponding $400 million relief. A Vancouver homeowner with a $50,000 home got a reduction of $224 a year.

Since the House Democratic majority (62D-36R) proposed an increase to the sales tax to fund the new obligation, they lost the majority (49-49) in 1978 and then Republicans took control in 1981. The Democrats lost the majority in the Senate and Republican John Spellman was elected governor.

The 1981 legislative session faced a severe budget deficit due to the new cost for education and a downturn in revenue because of the economy. Because over half of the general fund is spent on K-12 and higher education, without new revenue we would be back in court.

In the 1982 election, both the House and Senate Republicans lost the majority to Democrats, and in the 1984 election Spellman lost to Democrat Booth Gardner, all because of their position on taxes.

I site these two examples where Republican and Democratic legislators alike put their political lives on the line to comply with the oath they took upon their election that they would defend the Constitution and the laws of the state, which includes Article 9 Section 1: "Paramount duty to fund basic education"; more importantly, for the sake of our children.

There was no "nod-and-a-wink," no begging for leniency and no praying for clemency.

I must compliment The Columbian on its recognition of this difficult task the lawmakers have in balancing budgets, cutting programs, raising revenues and responding to the demands of the constituencies.

One last point: My father, who came from Germany in 1904 and homesteaded in Montana, helped build the school on his property, paid the teacher when the county could not, and always told me: "Don't eat your seed corn. Our children's education is the country's future."

Al Bauer, a Salmon Creek resident, served in the state House of Representatives from 1971-1980, and in the state Senate from 1981-2001.