- C.G. Jung
For a current example of tax aversion one needn’t look any farther than the communication from Senator Andy Hill that I highlighted I in January. According to Hill, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, all that was needed this year to satisfy the McCleary ruling was significant progress to fully fund SHB 2776. It’s clear in his article and in his subsequent statements that Hill’s primary goal is to avoid new taxes rather than provide ample funding for education.
Hill’s perspective regarding SHB 2776 has been frequently expressed by other legislators. The 2015 Session was the first time any legislation was proposed that went beyond SHB 2776 by addressing the unconstitutional use of local levies to fund educator salaries. To his credit, Representative Ross Hunter, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has consistently stated this needed to be part of the Legislature’s response to McCleary. In November he estimated the cost of that fix as $3.5 billion per biennium.
During this year’s second special session, a bipartisan plan was released in the Senate (SB 6130) that was designed to address this issue. That bill was not moved to a vote by its cosponsors, however, because there was no agreement on how to fund the $3.5 billion biennial cost.
In a recent commentary in Crosscut, Chris Vance, former chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, stated that the full cost of McCleary compliance would require over $5 billion per year. In an online comment posted on that article, Representative Hunter took issue with Vance’s estimate, because it included class-size enhancements in grades 4-12, which he said was beyond the Legislature’s definition of basic education.
In his response to Hunter, Vance cited the Court’s ruling as setting an expectation that is well beyond SHB 2776 and full funding of salaries, to also include staffing improvements spelled out in the prototypical school model:
1. Current funding plus the elements of SHB 2776.
2. Option 1 plus full funding of competitive salaries while eliminating local levy
support for those costs.
3. Option 2 plus full funding of the prototypical school model.
And none of these options include an expanded state role in covering capital costs which the Court has also alluded to as one of the State’s constitutional responsibilities.
Given the wide disparity in both the costs and the program defined by these different versions of full funding, the Court is wise to continue insisting that the Legislature provide a plan for how they intend to comply with the constitution by 2018. In the absence of such plan, the Court has no way to rule on whether the Legislature is making adequate progress in meeting its constitutional requirement.
While the Attorney General will likely argue that the Court shouldn’t impose sanctions, there is no debating the fact that the Legislature has once again failed to produce the court-ordered plan. That failure requires action by the Court. This potential outcome was clearly communicated to the Legislature in the Court’s September 11 contempt order: