It is, if nothing else, a jumping-off point. A start of the discussion. A blueprint for lawmakers to consider and debate and redesign if they so choose.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed budget, which was issued last week, recommends $3.9 billion in increased spending for K-12 education over the next biennium. To get there, the governor suggests the establishment of a capital-gains tax and a carbon tax in order to increase state revenue.
If that sounds familiar, it is because Inslee has supported such proposals in the past, only to be rejected by the Legislature and/or the voters. But with the Legislature facing a deadline for meeting the 2012 state Supreme Court ruling in McCleary v. Washington and for fully funding public education, the governor thinks he can generate support for the proposals. “We believe people eventually will come to grips with reality,” he told The Columbian’s Editorial Board in a conference call.
Therein lies the conundrum. Inslee’s proposal was immediately decried by some lawmakers — the same lawmakers who have failed to come up with adequate funding over the past two legislative sessions. We agree that new taxes should be a last resort, yet we are eager to hear some alternatives, the kind that lawmakers have been unable or unwilling to generate.
The Legislature has increased funding for schools in recent years, but it has remained far short of the destination established by the court. Inslee likes to use the metaphor of scaling a mountain, saying, “Now we’re in the final 3,000 feet of the climb,” while noting that is the most difficult part.
Therefore, it is time for lawmakers to strap on their oxygen tanks and begin climbing. Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, told The Columbian: “I know finding revenue is difficult, but we have to come up with new ideas. Bringing up the same ideas that time and time again the Legislature or voters have rejected, part of it feels a little disingenuous.”
That view is understandable, but the governor’s proposal is no more disingenuous that the Legislature’s lack of action accompanied by abundant complaining about Inslee. Last year, lawmakers planned to make a plan, establishing a task force to determine exactly how much money is needed to meet the constitutional “paramount duty” of providing for basic education. The task force is expected to deliver its report shortly before the Legislature convenes in January, completing a process that should have taken place four years ago when the McCleary decision was handed down.
Inslee’s capital-gains proposal would tax gains of more than $25,000, with exceptions for retirement funds and home sales. The carbon tax would charge emitters $25 per metric ton of carbon emissions, and the governor also has proposed an increase to the state’s business and occupation tax. Meanwhile, in theory at least, if the state fully funds basic education, school districts over time could reduce the local levies upon which they have come to rely.
We don’t know whether these represent the best options for school funding, but they are the only proposals on the table at the moment. Lawmakers will have the final say, but they also would benefit from guidance and leadership out of the governor’s office. Inslee said: “I think in this process, listening will be more important than twisting arms. These are hard things to do.”
Indeed. But at least Inslee has started moving forward on the issue while the Legislature has been stuck in neutral.