The following newsletter was sent to subscribers to Sen. Walsh’s Report from Olympia April 6, 2017. To subscribe to Sen. Walsh’s newsletter, click here.
Dear friends and neighbors,
The most pressing issue this year in Olympia is K-12 education, and we’re finally getting down to the details before the scheduled adjournment of our regular session on April 23. The Senate passed a $43 billion budget two weeks ago that responds to the Supreme Court’s demand that the state fully fund basic education. The Senate dramatically increases state funding for every student, while holding the line on tax increases. Meanwhile, the House passed a $46 billion spending plan that requires a $3 billion tax increase. Yet the Senate plan ultimately will provide more state funding for schools.
The key differences between the House and Senate plans:
- The Senate plan increases state funding for K-12 education by $3.7 billion over the next two years, boosting its share of the state budget to more than 50 percent for the first time since 1983.
- Over the long term, the Senate plan generates more state money for schools. In 2019-21, the Senate would increase state funding over present levels by $9.2 billion, while the House increases it by $8.6 billion.
Local levies are central issue
There has been some confusion about these school-funding numbers. Part of the problem is that some news stories about the Senate budget reported that we were increasing state funding by just $1.8 billion, based on a misreading of budget documents. That figure doesn’t include large, new education investments the Legislature approved in 2015, for inclusion in our 2017-19 budget, to reduce K-3 class sizes from 25 to 17. That’s new money our schools didn’t have before.
The state Supreme Court’s order means local tax levies can no longer be used to pay for basic education. But there are big differences between the House and Senate approaches.
- The Senate replaces local levies for basic education with a statewide property tax levy, in which everyone pays a flat tax rate. Not only does this address the court’s demand that the state create a fairer system, it also eliminates one of the state’s biggest inequities – allowing wealthy districts to raise more money while property-poor districts struggle.
- 83 percent of the state’s population would see lower taxes – including those in nearly all school districts of Eastern Washington and the 16th Legislative District.
- Starting in 2020, school districts would be allowed to seek voter approval for levies of up to 10 percent of their state-funded budget, but only for purposes other than basic education.
- The House plan boosts state funding for school districts by enacting the largest tax increase in Washington history. Then it doubles down on taxes by keeping local levies in place much as they are today. It allows school districts to raise up to 27 percent of their state-funded budgets through voter-approved property taxes. School districts would be able to raise more money under the House plan – but tax increases would be dramatic, too. The big inequities between rich and poor school districts would continue, and by ignoring this aspect of the court’s order, the House plan raises the possibility the court could further sanction the Legislature.
A tough budget negotiation
One thing makes it difficult to compare the House and Senate budgets – the House really has not finished its job. It has not taken the tough vote for the $3 billion in new taxes that its spending plan would require. Until that happens, no one knows if the House has the votes to back up its position. This is the same scenario that caused the 2015 legislative session to drag on into July.
A story this week in the Spokesman-Review, “GOP says House vote on tax package needed for budget negotiations,” outlines our concerns with the House tactic.
You can read the full story here.
Tiny houses on the Capitol Campus
If you have questions about bills being considered by the Legislature, or general questions about state government, I encourage you to get in touch with me. You can do so using the contact information below.
I look forward to hearing from you.