Tag Archives: Majority Coalition Caucus

Senate majority presents landmark plan for K-12 funding

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on January 31, 2017

Education Equality Act would make student-centered, teacher-friendly reforms

Senate Majority Coalition Caucus members today introduced landmark reforms that would return state government to the role of primary provider for Washington’s K-12 schools while finally connecting school funding with the actual cost of educating students.

The MCC’s Education Equality Act is the first complete, ready-for-voting solution proposed by lawmakers since the state Supreme Court ruling in McCleary v. Washington. The 2012 ruling highlighted what was already known: decades of putting other services ahead of schools caused Washington’s 295 school districts to rely too much on local property tax-levy money to cover costs that should be the state’s responsibility. The Legislature has until April 1 to agree on a new funding approach that takes effect before 2018.

Sen. John Braun, as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is the Senate budget leader, and was one of the MCC members to serve recently on a bipartisan Joint Education Funding Task Force. That group managed to obtain educator-compensation information that was denied to lawmakers for more than a year, and was one of the final pieces needed to complete the MCC plan.

Braun said the Education Equality Act would not only result in full state-level funding of public schools but also address factors that have made the K-12 system inequitable for students, teachers and taxpayers.

“Our plan is student-centered and teacher-friendly. It’s based on fair and transparent funding and promotes local control and accountability. By any credible measure, this is a progressive approach that should eliminate the educational-opportunity gap, and the associated social injustices, caused by inconsistent district-level funding,” said Braun, R-Centralia.

“It also responds to concerns teachers have about compensation, and the concerns districts have about hiring as well as the so-called ‘levy cliff.’ These issues are outside of the Legislature’s constitutional mandate but are part of the larger picture, so it makes sense to include them in our set of reforms,” he added.

Under the MCC plan, legislators set a statewide per-student funding level that puts Washington in the upper ranks nationally; require each school district to levy the same local property-tax rate and put that revenue toward the per-student amount; and allocate state funds to cover the difference between the per-student standard and the local funding.

The per-student funding level would be higher, and the state’s contribution would increase accordingly, to cover additional services for children who have special needs, or are homeless, or are not native English speakers.

The benefits of the Education Equality Act, Braun explained, include a consistent state investment in each Washington student regardless of ZIP Code, and an end to wild swings in local school-levy rates – caused by varying property values between districts – which are inequitable to taxpayers and contribute to disparities in teacher pay.

In addition, the MCC proposes ending the statewide pay grid that limits teacher compensation based on service years and education and does not account for the local cost of living. This would allow districts more flexibility and control when it comes to recruiting and retaining teachers.

“The governor and others talk about brand new taxes to pay for schools, even though revenue from an energy tax or a tax on certain forms of income can’t possibly qualify as the ‘regular and dependable’ source the Supreme Court expects,” Braun said. “Our plan relies on a traditional funding source that meets the ‘regular and dependable’ standard set by the Supreme Court, and is familiar to families and employers in our state.

“Making up for decades of inattention and the resulting inequities isn’t easy, but this approach checks all the boxes. It’s sweeping, it’s straightforward, and it’s sensible.”

Senators: Thank you for your service

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on January 03, 2017

Legislators leave office for a variety of reasons, and the when and how of their exits generally dictates our options for saying farewell. Sometimes an announcement comes during a session, which allows us to respond in person; otherwise it happens later in the year, and that opportunity is lost. We learned during the 2016 session that a few members of our Majority Coalition Caucus would not be with us in 2017, and that number doubled after the Legislature adjourned. Each of them deserves a public tip of the hat.

  • Senator Don Benton’s close re-election victory in 2012 may not have been the biggest factor in creating the Majority Coalition Caucus, but it was the last piece we needed. His work on protecting property rights and controlling the growth of taxes are well-known; other accomplishments, particularly his efforts on behalf of the homeless and veterans, didn’t get enough recognition. Don served 20 years in the Senate after a term in the House. He had no equal when it came to knowing Senate rules and parliamentary procedure, and that may be what I, as leader, will miss most.
  • Although Senator Bruce Dammeier was in our caucus for just one four-year term, following two terms in the House, his work on K-12 education did much to put the Legislature on track to comply with the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Bruce also had a gift for translating complex education-policy issues into plain language, and that will be not be easy for us to replace. His leadership potential was evident, and I’m not surprised the people of Pierce County decided to make Bruce their county executive starting today. He will serve them well.
  • Elected in 2000, Senator Mike Hewitt became Senate Republican leader right after the 2006 election reduced us to 17 seats – a low not seen since 1965. During the next seven years, as the Democratic majority ran up state spending during the real-estate boom and then ran up taxes when the boom went bust, the number of Republican senators steadily climbed until it reached 23 and allowed the formation of the MCC in late 2012. Mike set the leadership bar high, and I appreciated his counsel greatly after succeeding him as Republican leader. Good fishing, my friend.
  • One of the biggest benefits of forming the MCC was that it enabled Senator Steve Litzow to become chair of the Senate committee on early learning and K-12 education. He was no one’s puppet, which meant education-policy reformers finally had an even chance of having their views considered. The 41st Legislative District has become a “swing” district if there ever was one, and Steve’s loss in the 2016 general election is no reflection on his six years as a senator. Washington’s students and parents should hope the Legislature continues to follow the course he helped to set.
  • Leading legislative-caucus meetings isn’t easy, with so many personalities in one room, but Senator Linda Evans Parlette did so with grace for 10 straight years, as the Senate Republican Caucus evolved into the MCC. To her, being caucus chair meant looking out for staff as well as members, and made it feel even more like one big family. Linda was a strong voice on health care and natural-resources issues and had enough energy to continue serving much longer – but after 20 years as a legislator (16 in the Senate) her desire to spend more time with her real family won out. Is there a better reason to leave?
  • Her 2014 re-election to a record seventh term made Senator Pam Roach the longest-serving female senator in Washington history. She will be remembered for many things, and they should include her work on behalf of children and families, and public safety, and defense of the people’s right to initiatives and referenda. As an outdoorsman I appreciated her efforts to introduce legislators to the shooting sports. Anyone familiar with Senator Roach’s devotion to her family knows that while being elected to the Pierce County Council meant giving up the 31st District Senate seat, it offered another chance to serve alongside her son Dan (a former state representative who became a council member in 2011). A fair trade, I think.

Thanks to them all!

Reflections as our Senate majority coalition enters its fifth year

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on December 09, 2016

My former Senate colleague, Ed Murray, made a dire prediction ahead of the formation of our Senate Majority Coalition Caucus four years ago. In an interview with TVW, the now-Seattle mayor predicted that if two Democrats (Senator Tim Sheldon and former Senator Rodney Tom) joined with the Senate’s Republican members to form a new Senate majority, it would “poison the atmosphere” for years to come.

Clark County was still counting ballots when Senator Murray, the new leader of the Senate Democrats, offered his forecast. Because then-Rep. Barbara Bailey of Oak Harbor had just prevailed over a longtime Democrat incumbent to become senator for north Puget Sound’s 10th Legislative District, a victory by Senator Don Benton of Vancouver in the 17th District would mean 23 Republicans in the Senate and make a Sheldon-Tom-Republicans philosophical majority possible. For Ed to spin that scenario as he did – warning that chaos would result, and a bipartisan majority would be too unstable to lead – was completely predictable for someone in his awkward position. It also was completely wrong.

Senator Benton won his fifth term in a very close race, Senators Sheldon and Tom opted to align with us, and on Dec. 10 of that year we announced the creation of the MCC. The only poisoned atmosphere I remember was at the governor’s inaugural ball in January 2013 – specifically, the hissing from Democrats when Rodney (rather than Ed Murray) was introduced as the new Senate majority leader.

The MCC’s political “tent” instantly became the largest at the Capitol, and growing pains were inevitable. But chaos and instability? Maybe in other corners of the lawmaking process, but not in our coalition. I expected the MCC would serve at least as a counterbalance to our Democratic governor and the Democratic majority in the House; in hindsight, as our record of accomplishments shows, we have done so much more. Washington’s students, families and employers have had no better friend in Olympia these past four years.

As we move into our fifth year tomorrow, the MCC’s priorities remain true to our founding principles. Those include providing for a world-class education system; creating a job-rich, employer-friendly economy; serving Washington’s most vulnerable residents while being mindful of the needs of middle-income families; and an approach to budgeting that lives within the means provided by taxpayers. In short, we’re about protecting Washington’s future.

Happy anniversary, MCC!

Senate Budget Priorities

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on March 31, 2015

Senate budget fully funds education, cuts tuition without raising taxes

Students, teachers and parents would see significant funding increases for the state’s public schools while in-state tuition would be reduced for the first time since at least the 1970’s without raising taxes under Senator Andy Hill’s budget proposal released Tuesday.

2015 Senate Budget By the Numbers

“We crafted this budget  to prioritize education, protect our most vulnerable citizens and live within the state’s means,”said Hill,

of Redmond, who has served as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee since 2013. “When Washington taxpayers see the state is taking in an additional $3 billion under the existing tax system, they believe that’s enough for us to provide the services residents want and deserve.”

Almost 80 percent of the revenue growth is dedicated to education including: an additional $1.3 billion to K-12 addressing the McCleary decision; funding for an average 25 percent tuition reduction at state colleges and universities by 2017; and almost $100 million to expand high quality early learning opportunities.

“Preparing students for success in college and in life starts by improving our 77 percent high school graduation rate and persistent opportunity gap,” said Hill. “If at-risk students can enter kindergarten better prepared through early learning programs, research shows they have a higher chance of graduating high school. It’s just as important that we make college accessible given the changing demands of the job market. This budget invests in a 21st-century education system.”

The plan also includes more than $70 million in additional support for mental health programs, protects funding for individuals with developmental disabilities, enhances protections for senior citizens, and makes Washington’s roads safer by reducing the number of DUI’s before an individual can be charged with a felony.

“Despite a consistent call for new taxes from the House of Representatives and governor, it’s clear that we can fulfill our priorities, make significant investments in important programs, and do so without taking more money out of taxpayer’s pockets,” continued Hill.

The 2015-17 operating budget proposal is scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday, March 31, at 3:30 p.m. and can be viewed live on TVW at www.TVW.org.

 

State Senate majority creates new government accountability committee

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on December 09, 2014

Announces committee leadership for 2015 legislative session

The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus announced today Senate committee leadership for the 2015 legislative session including the addition of a new committee that will focus on government accountability and reform issues.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said, “The committee leadership reflects the exceptional talent in this caucus who have already gotten great results for the people of this state. Over the past two years they’ve proven we can work with Democrats to prioritize education and balance the budget while protecting hardworking taxpayers.”

Schoesler said that the addition of a new committee to oversee accountability and reform issues is a priority for the caucus. “We have a crisis of confidence and competence,” said Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “Our main focus will be to restore people’s trust and to make sure state government works for the people who pay the bills and not just special interests.”

Senator-elect Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, was appointed to chair the new Senate Accountability and Reform Committee.

In contrast, House Democrat leadership announced this week the dissolution of their Government Accountability and Oversight panel. “I’m proud that we have made government accountability a top priority,” Schoesler said.

Dec. 10 marks the second anniversary of the founding of the Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate when two Democrats joined with Republicans to form the coalition. The 2014 elections gave Republicans a clear majority in the Senate and full chairmanships for the committees.

“This does not change our commitment to collaboration with the minority Democrats in the Senate,” Schoesler said, “We continue to welcome any Senate member who wants to make education the top priority and keep state government living within its means.”

Senate committee chairs and vice chairs are as follows:

Senate Accountability and Reform Committee deals with issues involving the management of government, including transparency, efficiency programs and strategic planning. Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, chair and Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, vice chair.

Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee considers issues relating to agricultural land and production, food safety and policies and programs that affect economic development in rural areas of the state. Senator-elect Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, chair and Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, vice chair.

Senate Commerce and Labor Committee considers issues relating to the workers’ compensation system, the unemployment insurance system, collective bargaining, professional regulation and consumer protection. Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, chair and Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, vice chair.

Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee considers policy and finance issues related to schools and learning from birth through twelfth grade, and preparation for later learning experiences. Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, chair and Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, vice chair.

Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee considers issues relating to power generation and transmission, water quality, environmental pollution, recycling, telephone and Internet service. Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, chair and Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, vice chair.

Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee deals with issues concerning banks, credit, lending, insurance companies, financial markets and multi-family housing. Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, chair and Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, vice chair.

Senate Governmental Operations Committee considers issues relating to elections and campaigns, public records and public meetings, and the operation of state and local governments. Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, chair.

Senate Health Care Committee deals with issues concerning the state’s health care system, including health care facilities, health care professions, long-term care, state implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act and medical marijuana. Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, chair and Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, vice chair.

Senate Higher Education Committee considers issues concerning public colleges and universities and private higher education institutions. Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, chair and Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, vice chair.

Senate Human Services, Mental Health and Housing Committee deals with issues involving supported housing, social-service programs, foster care, youth and adult mental health issues. Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, chair and Senator-elect Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, vice chair.

Senate Law and Justice Committee deals with issues of civil and criminal law and corrections, including prisons and jails, criminal penalties, sentencing, and oversight of courts and law enforcement. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, chair and Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, vice chair.

Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee considers issues relating to fish and wildlife, parks and recreation, state lands management, mining, forestry and fire prevention. Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, chair and Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, vice chair.

Senate Rules Committee considers bills reported from policy and fiscal committees and determines the scheduling of their consideration on the Senate floor. Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, will lead the MCC majority on the committee. Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch will serve as vice chair and Lt. Governor Brad Owen, D-Shelton, will serve as chair.

Senate Trade and Economic Development Committee deals with issues regarding tourism, international trade, economic development incentives, technical assistance for business. Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, chair and Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, vice chair.

Senate Transportation Committee deals with issues involving the movement of goods and people, and oversees the state highways budget. Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, chair and Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, vice chair for the transportation budget and Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, vice chair.

Senate Ways and Means Committee writes the state’s operating and capital budgets, oversees tax policy, and reviews all bills that affect state operating and capital-budget spending. Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, chair, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, vice chair, Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, vice chair, education finance and Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, vice chair, capital budget.

The 2015 legislative session begins Monday, Jan. 12, and will last 105 days.