Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As the second special session draws to a close, negotiators continue to work on the best plan for the state’s operating budget. The operating budget covers the general day-to-day expenses of all state agencies, including social services, public safety, natural resources, higher education and K-12 education. The eight-member negotiation team, which includes two members from each caucus, is meeting regularly. Although some progress has been made, they haven’t come up with a complete plan for policy surrounding K-12 education funding. If you are frustrated by this outcome, you are not alone.
This is not about partisan politics. Both Democrats and Republicans want to see K-12 education amply funded in our state. With $4.6 billion added to education funding in the last two legislative cycles, we’ve made great strides in reversing years of financial neglect. Four years ago, education funding made up about 42 percent of the operating budget. Now, with these additional investments, more than 48 percent of the current operating budget goes towards education funding. With the most recent proposal, education funding will be more than 50 percent of the operating budget for the first time in years and the highest it has been since 1983.
In the 2012 McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court ruled the state must end local school districts overreliance on local property levies to fund basic education. In fact, the court said, “the state may not constitutionally rely on local levies to pay for basic education generally.” The levy disparity issue is at the heart of the current education funding negotiations.
In order to bolster K-12 education funding, the Democrat-led House proposed nearly $8 billion in new taxes. However, they did not propose notable levy reform. Negotiations have been made even more difficult because House Democrats are, as yet, unwilling to vote on their own plan to raise taxes.
Unwinding decades of reliance by local school districts on local property taxes is not just about throwing more money at the problem. In fact, the most recent financial forecast for the state show state revenues are up by more than $3 billion. We don’t need to ask hard-working Washingtonians to pay even more. What we need is a fundamental shift in our current education funding policy. Levy reform can fund K-12 education, while giving many homeowners a break on their property taxes.
So what does levy reform look like? It means creating a uniform statewide property tax. This system is fair, flat and equal for all Washingtonians. The change will raise property (levy) taxes in some urban areas, like Seattle, Bellevue and Mercer Island, but it lowers them in others. In general, for our district, we would see a decrease in property taxes.
Although I’m sensitive to the fact some urban area property owners would see an increase in taxes, I’m also aware, for decades now, other owners — in less populated regions, have been paying more. It’s time to level the playing field.
Since June of last year, House Republicans have been working on a McCleary funding plan that includes levy reform. Latest reports on the progress of the negotiations indicate this plan is being used as the framework for the solution that will eventually emerge. Reforming K-12 education funding is arguably the single most important task the Legislature needs to complete before adjourning for the year. I remain hopeful we will see a plan that amply funds education and creates a fair, flat and equal system for all Washingtonians in the weeks to come.
During the special session, I encourage you to reach out to me with your questions, ideas and feedback. My contact information is listed below.
Thank you for the privilege of representing you in Olympia.