Senate passes the Small Business Bonding Relief bill
It obviously has not been easy for lawmakers to come up with legislation that fixes the constitutional issue about school levies raised in the McCleary ruling, treats students and taxpayers in 295 diverse districts equitably and responds to long-standing compensation concerns from teachers and district officials. If it was, the Education Equality Act passed by the Senate more than a week ago wouldn’t still be all by itself on the negotiating table.
Fortunately, another Supreme Court decision looming over our state – the Hirst ruling, from October – is easier to fix than McCleary. There’s no good reason why we can’t have an agreement in place as soon as the end of February.
To put it simply, Hirst complicates the process of permitting a residential water well, and complications mean more cost – tens of thousands of dollars more, potentially, which discourages people from buying land, and property owners from building or selling. Besides derailing the dreams of families all around our state, the ruling means less activity for local lenders and the real-estate and construction sectors.
I remember how a dozen years ago, without warning, the real-estate and construction sectors got hot and began pouring money into the state treasury. In contrast, there’s been ample warning about the chilling effect Hirst is having in those areas of our economy, and what it means for state revenues.
Our children are still being schooled while work on McCleary proceeds, and whatever agreement we reach won’t have an effect on the current school year anyway. Hirst is different, because fewer homes are being built and fewer property transactions are occurring while the Legislature works on a response. The economic damage has already begun, especially in rural Washington.
I know of two bills in each legislative chamber that would address Hirst. One House bill and one Senate bill have bipartisan sponsorship – and in my opinion, represent the straighter path to a solution. The bipartisan Senate bill has already won committee support, while the House committee may push both of its measures ahead.
Not many issues hit all 39 counties in the gut the way Hirst has, and a legislative fix could start bringing relief immediately. It could, and should, be the first major bill to come out of this session.
This week Republican legislative leaders had their first meeting of the session with statehouse reporters. As expected the press corps asked first about education funding – including, when will they see a plan from Republicans to fully fund our K-12 schools?
A freelance writer wondered whether the plan would come in a week or two, or would we “wait until April,” meaning late in the session. The April reference struck me as something I would expect from certain Democrats, not a reporter who is supposed to be objective and professional – so I barked at him, which was out of character.
What I should have said, being a longtime Green Bay Packers fan, was something like the line famously used by Aaron Rodgers, the Pack’s quarterback, when questioned a couple years ago about his team’s production.
“Relax. We’re going to be OK,” Rodgers said. His team, 1-2 at the time, went on to win 11 of its remaining 13 games.
My answer should have been more like this: Our plan will be ready soon — sooner than later. It’s going to be OK. We will get this job done.
Democrat lawmakers put some big-spending numbers and costly concepts on paper via the recently concluded Joint Education Funding Task Force. Some have used that to take we-did-our-homework-you-didn’t shots at Republicans. But completing the homework is not the same as passing the test. When our Senate majority puts its plan on the table, I want it to be a fully baked plan that is ready to pass the test, meaning win a majority vote.
If I wanted to fire back at Democrats, I would remind them how our situation is largely of their party’s making. Democrats controlled the state budget for the better part of 30 years before our Senate Majority Coalition Caucus began leading the Senate in 2013. Their spending choices, which favored non-education things over schools by a 2-1 ratio, created the conditions that led to the 2012 McCleary decision. The MCC-led Senate has flipped that, devoting new revenue to education at a rate of more than 3-1. We have restored K-12 to its rightful place in the budget.
I would also note how, in 2013 and 2015, the governor blocked the Legislature’s request to collect K-12 compensation data. We needed it to understand, in dollars and cents, what “full funding” of education really means. Only because of the education-funding task force do we finally have that information.
Instead, I’ll simply say that Republicans aren’t about to leave schools in the lurch. But we want a solution that lasts indefinitely, and we recognize that the Legislature really has just one chance to get it right.
As I said to the reporters, our plan will be ready when it’s ready. Let me say here that it will be ready very soon.
It’s going to be OK. We’re going to get this done.
As we reflect today on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and what he meant to our country, I think about another distinguished African-American leader: my late friend Dr. Elson Floyd, the former Washington State University president who lost his battle with cancer in June 2015.
The “Big Coug” and I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about his childhood, but there were enough anecdotes for me to gather how the segregated South he grew up in as a North Carolina native was very different from our state’s Adams County, where I was brought up.
The Civil Rights Act (and the Voting Rights Act) were passed by Congress, thanks to Republicans, when Elson was still a young boy. Still, changes in culture often lag changes in the law. Although Elson was less than a year older than me, he spoke of having to stay away from certain places – whether the law said so or because he knew better than to be around those places. I can’t imagine what that must have been like.
Elson was raised with a strong sense of family, and while he was athletically gifted as a young man, he was wise enough to put academics ahead of athletics. I respected those qualities and much more about him. But although he worked hard for his academic achievements, education alone does not bring opportunity. To me, it’s because of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that great leaders like Dr. Elson Floyd were and are able to emerge – and to shine brightly, as my dear friend did. That’s worth commemorating today.
According to Governor Inslee, state government has an “obligation” to pour many more billions of dollars into Washington’s K-12 schools. That’s on top of the additional billions budgeted by the Legislature for basic education in the past four years.
“In this day and age, we owe our kids and parents more,” the governor declared on Dec. 13, in the course of unveiling his plan to raise taxes by $8.7 billion. He proposes to steer about half of that new revenue into the K-12 system, where it would go toward providing “a great teacher in the classroom and access to the programs and services we know they [students] need.”
Now lay Inslee’s declarations next to a Dec. 16 report from the non-partisan Washington Policy Center, which found (based on federal statistics) that our state leads the nation in strikes by teachers. In 2015 three of the 12 largest labor disruptions in the nation took place here, in the form of school closures.
Inslee speaks of providing great teachers but not of what he would do to keep them in their classrooms. In this day and age, to borrow his words, aren’t Washington’s kids and parents owed more than a school year disrupted by a teacher strike? How far would Inslee go to prevent a walkout so students don’t lose access, even for a day, to those great classroom teachers and school-based programs and services?
Benge Elementary in southeast Adams County, a K-6 school that is the district’s only facility, and Jefferson Elementary in Pullman, part of a much larger district, are among the schools I visited this fall. They illustrate how differences in the tax base and cost of living and quality of life can influence teacher recruiting and educational opportunities for their respective students. Many of us are determined to look out for the needs of rural schools like Benge as we respond to the McCleary education-funding case, and that has made the challenge greater. We will find a way to address the disparity called out by the state Supreme Court – but who will address the inequities that result when one school district is forced to shell out more local money for teacher salaries because it wants to end or prevent a strike? The Legislature can’t make teacher strikes more illegal than they already are.
As the father and father-in-law of public-school teachers, and with my eldest grandchild now in kindergarten, I appreciate the work teachers do and want to see them receive proper compensation. Paying for education with existing tax dollars first, as our Senate majority has worked to do these past four years, is exactly what we should continue doing under the “paramount duty” clause in Washington’s constitution.
Clearly, Inslee thinks Washingtonians should be giving billions more to state government, either through higher taxes on employers or through the increased costs that consumers inevitably pay when taxes go up. But it is disingenuous to use schools as the primary excuse, especially when there is no reason to believe that even a massive tax increase would end the threat of teacher strikes.
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!