Author Archives: ericcampbell

Former governor Spellman on education: Constitution, conscience, and common sense

By ericcampbell | Published on June 22, 2017

John Spellman honored me with a visit yesterday. It’s been a while since our previous time together, but Washington’s 18th governor, at age 90, is as sharp and inquisitive as I remembered.

In 12 years as King County executive and four years as governor, he accomplished much, as his “Legacy Washington” story explains. However, the former Republican chief executive doesn’t get enough credit (with Republicans who led both legislative chambers then) for supporting public schools. More than half the state’s general-fund spending went to public schools in 1981-83, during the first half of his term. That level hasn’t been reached since (although it should be in the new state budget).

Governor Spellman took office during the post-Jimmy Carter, post-Dixy Lee Ray economic downturn. When a predicted recovery didn’t materialize that summer, legislative overtimes and spending cuts and tax increases followed to keep the 1981-83 budget afloat.

As his December 1982 budget message to legislators put it, “special efforts were made throughout that budget process to protect the common schools.” With an eloquence that’s rare these days, his message continued in a way that reads much like our Senate majority’s priorities:

“Foremost among our priorities is our commitment to education. Our constitution, our consciences, and our common sense make that commitment not only necessary but right. Our other obligations are equally compelling: to support those in need or those unable to care for themselves; to protect the public through effective law enforcement and corrections programs; and, to promote a fair, stable and adequate tax structure. Establishing these priorities and meeting these obligations will require our working together and the cooperation and support of the people.”

His 1983-85 “budget for hard times and the few more lean years to come” allowed public-school spending to slip below a 50% share. The Democratic governors and Democrat-controlled legislatures who followed didn’t reverse that after the economy rebounded. Things got worse instead. In 2005-07, despite record-setting revenue growth, funding for the state’s paramount duty sank to a dozen points below Spellman’s first biennium. It’s no coincidence that the McCleary lawsuit was filed in 2007.

Washington students have no better ally in Olympia than our Republican-led Senate majority. We’ve reversed the Democrat trend and restored K-12 education to its rightful place in the budget. I enjoyed telling the former governor that I expect to reach or exceed the “Spellman standard” in the 2017-19 budget.

Budget talks continue…and so does the spin

By ericcampbell | Published on June 12, 2017

The former FBI director spoke last week about the challenge posed by media coverage of sensitive topics involving classified information. Because officials who know the details aren’t inclined to talk to reporters, he told a Senate committee, they have to “leave it” when reports are off-target.

Budget negotiations in Olympia (which have been going since April) don’t involve classified information. But spending is a sensitive topic, so here too, those with the details tend to avoid sharing them publicly.

Unfortunately, special-interest disinformation fills the void – along with pure political spin. Just last week a new Democratic senator accused our Senate majority of “my way or the highway” negotiating. Being in the minority, she might not know we and the House majority have exchanged several offers. Still, that’s no defense.

Some claims, like these in a recent news report, can be addressed without upsetting negotiations:

Claim: House Democrats want to “radically overhaul” the state’s business-and-occupation taxes. Our Senate Majority Coalition Caucus doesn’t.
Fact: Democrats want to raise business-and-occupation taxes by 20% on service-oriented businesses such as daycares. And it’s true, we don’t.

Claim: Democrats want to close several tax breaks. We don’t.
Fact: Democrats want to close several tax incentives that help create jobs. We’re open to evaluating tax preferences that don’t create jobs.

Claim: We want to overhaul the state property-tax system, which would “significantly” increase those taxes on Puget Sound residents.
Fact: The MCC property-tax overhaul addresses the Supreme Court’s constitutional concerns about education funding. The flat tax rate we propose statewide happens to be less than what 83% of property owners in Washington are paying now. While the flat rate represents an increase in some school districts, it’s also fair. And every school district would receive more funding. Also, as a whole, King County property owners would save with our plan compared to the mix of tax changes House Democrats want.

Claim: We would ignore most new tentative contracts negotiated with state employees in 2016.
Fact: What we want is legislative oversight concerning those tentative contracts. We’d also prioritize raises for underpaid state employees.

The claim that we see the Democrats’ proposed capital-gains tax as a “business-killing Trojan Horse for a state income tax” sounds about right. Just ask Connecticut.

Contrary to the disinformation, our side is actively negotiating. Others may gain from pushing Olympia to the brink of a shutdown, but not us.

The state’s ‘commitment to tolerance’ gets a test at Evergreen

By ericcampbell | Published on May 31, 2017

Jerry Kulm graduated from Ritzville High School in 1967, the same year legislators in Olympia decided to create what would be the first four-year college in southwest Washington. He died serving in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam in 1970, a year before classes began at that new institution – The Evergreen State College, here in Olympia. Apparently a Vietnam war protest even accompanied the school’s dedication.

I didn’t know Jerry Kulm, but I spoke of him Monday morning at the Memorial Day observance at the Ritzville Memorial Cemetery, organized by our local American Legion post. He and many others from my hometown were laid to rest there after making the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation and the freedoms we hold dear, including the freedom of speech.

It seems free speech is in danger at Evergreen these days – if a professor feels safer teaching class in a public park because the campus police won’t, by order of the TESC president, shield him from angry students. Students who are angry because the professor had the nerve to oppose a race-related event and, of all things, wrote about the right to speak freely on a college campus.

Understandably, many of us serving in the Legislature take a dim view of all this. But even if we adopted legislation tomorrow to end public financing of Evergreen, it wouldn’t address the immediate professor-safety concern.

How about this: while the professor considers a “hostile workplace” complaint against the Evergreen administration for failing to ensure his safety on campus, the governor could make the short trip over to the Evergreen campus and have a sit-down with the angry students. Explain how the freedom-of-speech thing works both ways, and the value of listening to and learning from voices of dissent (other than their own), and take along a copy of his February 23 executive order that reaffirms “Washington’s commitment to tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness.”

I realize that order was focused on undocumented immigrants, but don’t the civil rights of a public-college professor deserve the state’s protection just as much?

Don’t be taken in by the spin – legislators are negotiating

By ericcampbell | Published on May 22, 2017

Democrat lawmakers still are trying to convince anyone within earshot that our Senate majority is boycotting negotiations toward a new operating budget.

For instance, the Senate’s minority-caucus chair recently wrote that Democrats are “ready to sit down at the table.” Right after accusing our Senate majority of employing “alternative facts.”

A few days earlier the House finance-committee chair had written that Democrats are “ready to negotiate.” Right after accusing our Senate majority of “political games.”

The House finance chair’s words came a full 10 days after members of the Senate and House majorities and minorities began formal negotiations about education funding. She is one of the negotiators. And surely the Senate minority-caucus chair knew his colleagues are involved.

So who’s employing alternative facts and playing political games?

Talks have taken place six times a week for the past four weeks. Our Senate budget leader is one of those negotiating. The focus is on court-directed reforms of the broken education-funding system, and on the K-12 part of the state budget. Those factors will drive the rest of the budget process. They need attention first.

The Democrat spin says we’re refusing to talk. The truth is that we’re just not talking the way Democrats want. They insist on engaging in full-scale budget negotiations without first voting on the big taxes they’ve proposed, which include a new tax on personal income and a tax hike on many Washington employers.

We have no interest in putting our balanced budget proposal up against a House plan built on “ghost dollars” – meaning revenue from new taxes that are only assumed. We didn’t try that when negotiating the Connecting Washington transportation package with the House in 2015; the Senate took the necessary tax vote first. The Senate has already taken a tax vote this year, also, as part of the Education Equality Act we passed on Feb. 1.

While K-12 negotiators meet, Democrats have time to transform what is now an underfunded wish list into a proper, balanced plan capable of passing in the House. If they fear that their big new taxes won’t fly with the folks back home, they are welcome to adopt our fair and equitable approach to funding public schools.

Either way, the sooner House Democrats put a legitimate budget on the table alongside the Senate’s complete plan, the sooner we can complete our work.

Busting the Democrats’ myth about ‘Connecting Washington’

By ericcampbell | Published on May 18, 2017

All year long Democrat lawmakers have mentioned the “Connecting Washington” transportation package of 2015 when talking about reaching major agreements this year.

For the longest time that didn’t make sense. There wouldn’t have been a 2015 package if Democrats hadn’t fumbled the first try in 2013. Why keep bringing it up?

Now it’s clear. Democrats seem to think that with Connecting Washington 2015, the Senate and House negotiated the projects and costs before agreeing on funding sources.

I can guess why they’d prefer that story line, but it’s fiction.

The first Connecting Washington package showed how not to get big legislation through Olympia. House Democrats proposed it in February 2013. But it took two tries to pass a revenue bill and show they were serious. By then it was June 27, with only two days left in our second special session, and we weren’t about to rush the House proposal through the Senate.

When the Senate took the lead on Connecting Washington in 2015, we didn’t strike a deal before voting on revenue, contrary to the House Democrats’ version of history. We didn’t drag our feet on a revenue vote as House Democrats had in 2013. Our revenue bill was through committee and off the Senate floor in two weeks, by March 2. That left plenty of negotiating time.

It’s true the Senate and House both voted on the revenue part in late June, but it was the House’s only vote. The Senate voted again because our March 2 vote no longer counted in that third special session.

The fact that the Senate passed a revenue bill long before both sides reached a deal, and a House revenue vote, busts the Democrats’ myth about how Connecting Washington happened.

Still, it was a landmark agreement that offers lessons in governing. For one, don’t tie spending proposals to tax increases if you’re not willing to vote on them. We took the Connecting Washington revenue vote before hashing out details of the package, so it’s fair to expect the same from House Democrats this year. If they’re serious about their revenue bills, they need to vote.

Connecting Washington also showed, to paraphrase the late Senator Andy Hill, that taxes can receive support in Olympia when they are the last resort. But the taxes House Democrats are proposing now are far from a last resort. The Senate budget proposal is proof.

House majority plan would have King County property owners pay more

By ericcampbell | Published on 

My Democratic counterparts in the House criticize how our Senate majority’s education-funding reforms, and the budget proposal which supports them, would keep property taxes as the primary source of support for schools.

They claim a property tax “is indiscriminate, hitting rich and poor people alike – and disproportionately hitting certain districts, especially in the Puget Sound region.”

What House Democrats don’t talk about is how our plan is better for King County property owners than what they’re proposing.

House majority leaders would not only allow local school districts to tax their property owners at a higher rate. They also would do away with the 1% cap on the growth of local-government property taxes (imposed by voters in 2001, then by legislators in 2007). We figure the net effect is a savings of about 25 cents per $1,000 APV under our approach. In King County that can add up pretty fast.

The same Democratic leaders claim our state’s tax system is “upside down,” in part because Washington doesn’t tax personal income (something they want to change). But what’s really upside down is the school-levy system. Since 2011 the amount of money collected through local school levies has exceeded what’s coming in from the state common-school levy, and that gap continues to widen.

The state Supreme Court has found the K-12 funding system to be unconstitutional on two occasions (1978 and 2012) and both rulings came a year after local-levy collections moved ahead of what the state levy generated. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Whose plan would remedy the situation? Not the House majority’s.

So, to recap: House Democrats are OK with the “indiscriminate” property tax when it suits them, on top of the tax proposals they won’t bring to a vote (a discriminatory new tax on personal income and a 20% tax hike on most employers, including day cares). They’re OK with allowing school districts to rely more on local levies, even if that “disproportionately” hits most households in districts where property values are lower.

No thanks. Washington students, families and employers would be better off with our Senate majority’s uniform, stable, reliable, and constitutional approach – the only progressive and equitable plan on the table.

School administrators look to Goebbels, Lenin for advice?

By ericcampbell | Published on May 05, 2017

Wearing a T-shirt with an image of a prominent Nazi war criminal might be enough to get a student sent home. But the Washington Association of School Administrators thinks it is OK to share public-relations advice from a prominent Nazi war criminal if you’re trying to get school administrators to be effective advocates.

The Washington Policy Center’s Liv Finne recently noted how a WASA slideshow titled “Who’s Telling Your Story?” included a quote from Joseph Goebbels, complete with photo. There was also a quote and photo from another famous humanitarian, Vladimir Lenin.

To be fair, Aristotle and George Bernard Shaw also had their own slides. But the ancient Greek philosopher and Nobel laureate were ahead of a half-dozen slides filled with quotes from the League of Education Voters, Freedom Foundation, Democrats for Education Reform, Stand for Children, the Washington Roundtable/Partnership for Learning, and Finne herself.

Goebbels and Lenin, and their observations about what happens when a lie is told often enough, followed the quotes from the various education-reform groups. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist – or a school administrator – to connect the dots.

WASA has reason to demean the groups quoted in the slideshow. They are reformers, and WASA represents the status quo. But come on.

The WASA lobbyist who posted the slideshow wasn’t foolish enough to give the Goebbels-Lenin treatment to things our Senate majority has said about our Education Equality Act – even though that legislation is all about reforming the K-12 funding system, and therefore opposed by those who are desperate to keep the status quo.

Still, WASA finds ways to take a swing at us. Like when we brought the House Democrats’ tax package (the largest tax increase in state history) before the Senate budget committee for a hearing on April 26, in the form of a Senate bill. The WASA lobbyist was right there to testify in support. Two days before, in a report to WASA members, he had described the upcoming hearing as “gamesmanship.”

Gamesmanship? This from an organization that took part in the campaign about the so-called “levy cliff.” And don’t forget the administrators (Seattle School District and elsewhere) who have eye-popping compensation packages ($354,000 in salary and benefits, in Seattle) in districts that have seen huge jumps in funding, and still plead poverty.

And people wonder why education-funding reform has been such a tough nut to crack.

Democrats get touchy when someone else touches their tax ideas

By ericcampbell | Published on April 28, 2017

I don’t remember the governor saying a thing earlier this month when the House Finance Committee had a public hearing on the smorgasbord of taxes in House Bill 2186. But he declared it a waste of time for our Ways and Means Committee to have a public hearing this week on Senate Bill 5929, which includes the same proposals found in HB 2186.

I would have been fine with considering HB 2186 instead, but the House majority is refusing to vote on it. Unless they pass the bill, we can’t have a hearing on it.

It’s interesting how Democrat leaders can say it’s a “stunt” or a “game” for us to have a hearing on tax proposals or bring them to a vote, yet it’s not a stunt or a game for House Democrats to include tax bills in their budget package, then refuse to vote on them. Or to think they can negotiate with imaginary tax revenue while our side negotiates with real revenue.

Unlike the House, our Senate majority has already taken its tax vote, in the course of approving the Education Equality Act that would keep school funding tied to a stable source: property tax. We’re choosing to reform how property taxes pay for education, in a fair and progressive way that would have every property owner in Washington paying at the same rate. The House majority proposes untested or destabilizing taxes that target personal income, and most employers in our state.

While we’re setting the record straight, it’s false for anyone to claim the Senate and the House aren’t talking about the budget. We are, within the framework of the education-funding group that includes members from all four legislative caucuses. They include Senator Braun, our majority’s budget leader.

The education-funding conversations are possible because state government has more than enough money to fully fund basic education. Any tax debate is really about things outside of schools. And if the House majority is serious about having that debate, it knows what needs to be done – pass the tax proposals.

Democrat excuses for delaying Hirst fix don’t hold water

By ericcampbell | Published on April 11, 2017

This past week the House majority and the governor admitted they are in no rush to find a remedy for the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision.

House Democrat leaders said they’d address Hirst in “negotiations.” Governor Inslee calls Hirst a “distraction” from work to reform the K-12 funding system.

Those excuses are full of holes. After letting their own Hirst-related bills die, and killing the Senate’s sensible bipartisan remedy, House Democrats have nothing to negotiate with.

And Inslee knows it would take all of 15 minutes for the House majority to pull Senate Bill 5239 from the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, pass it off the floor, and…we’re done. Some distraction.

So what else could it be?

Is it about water for fish, as some House Democrats have hinted? That doesn’t seem credible when the household wells targeted by Hirst account for less than 1 percent of water consumption in Washington.

Hirst isn’t crushing only the dreams of families who want to build on land that doesn’t have access to a municipal water system. It also hits those who help make such dreams come true: real estate, local lenders, contractors and more. Are Inslee and House Democrats blind to that? Could be, as House Democrats clearly seem oblivious to the harm of their plan to raise taxes on most employers by 20 percent.

Do House Democrats simply have it out for rural Washington? That’s credible, seeing how their budget would spend $2 billion more than the Senate’s but doesn’t even include $4 million to continue state support for fairs, which are popular in rural areas.

Maybe House Democrats think Hirst can weaken our Senate majority’s opposition to their proposed tax on personal income. That’s about as likely as someone falling for their line that their income tax is really an “excise” tax.

In a March 20 video Representative Brian Blake, House ag-committee chairman, said he was “hopeful that [SB 5239] can be the vehicle to resolve [Hirst].” Nine days later he let the bill die. It makes you wonder who ordered the killing.

The Senate has done its part to fix Hirst. If the House had passed our bill, the remedy could have taken effect already. Families and rural communities would be feeling immediate relief. Instead, Democrats offer only weak excuses.