Two recent articles in the Seattle Times point out one of the remaining key elements of resolving the McCleary “problem”, and it’s a BIG element. Most estimates have the size of the problem at about $3,000,000,000 to $3,500,000,000 ($3 – $3.5 billion) a biennium.
State in ‘weird place’ trying to alter reliance on school levies. This article talks about the politics involved, but doesn’t bring up all the weirdness with school funding formulas, in particular “levy equalization” paid to well over 200 districts (of 295) because their property values are lower than the core central Puget Sound districts. It also doesn’t address the “small school factor” that results in some very small school districts getting $50,000 per student.
Last week the Appropriations committee held a hearing on the second half of the McCleary decision; the requirement that the state fund adequate compensation, not local taxpayers. The hearing took over 3 hours and is super-interesting. You can watch it on TVW here.
This sounds terrifyingly dull, but it wasn’t. Anytime you talk about property taxes and use numbers like three and a half billion dollars you get people’s attention. We had a briefing on three Senate bills and a proposal by yours truly that isn’t drafted as a bill. The bills wind up being 70 pages long and we are not close enough to having agreement to spend the effort drafting legislation – I’d rather agree on policy first and then draft a bill. The drafting is a lot of work for staff that are all working on budget right now. I’m not a fan of random work.
Bruce Dammeier introduced a bill (SB 6109) that does many, many things. It’s AN implementation of a levy swap, but has a lot of restrictions in it that make it unattractive to urban districts. Bruce implements a regional compensation model.
Christine Rolfes has a bill (SB 6104) that does many of the same things, but also funds initiative 1351. It’s profoundly expensive and depends on the capital gains tax to pay for part of it. Christine does not do regional comp.
Jim Hargrove (SB 6103) uses property tax to shift some payments for compensation to the state, making major changes to property tax.
My proposal is very focused on dealing with the compensation problem, without making a lot of changes to how teachers are paid, restrictions on use of levies, etc.
The House bill we had a hearing on (HB 2239) makes no actual changes in law, other than a judicially enforceable schedule of making the decisions that need to be made. The schedule would lead to the new financing system being in place for the 2018-19 school year, just in time to comply with McCleary. The decisions could be made more quickly, but it would be difficult to get the buy-in if we do.
I’m not sure what our next step should be at this point. We need to have some public hearings to determine the financial parameters of the actual problem. I will attempt to schedule some meetings. We may choose to use a smaller room and have them be option for all the members of Appropriations to attend, or some other way to have a more interactive hearing. More to come.
I write this on Tuesday April 21st. At this point I do not expect that the Legislature will agree on a budget before the regular session ends on Sunday April 26th. The Seattle Times published a lot of articles this weekend about the budget, and I’m structuring this newsletter around them. The first article in the collection discusses in detail all the press conferences that the two sides had all week. We’ve had a number of meetings between the two negotiating teams to try to set up the framework for talks, but we’re not making much progress.
I think it’s mostly about the different approaches the two sides take to the budget. The House Democrats look at the various categories of spending and make recommendations about what we think the state should invest in, then work back to figure out how much revenue we need based on that. This is a balancing decision, and lots of desired spending doesn’t get done in the budget proposal. The Senate Republicans make a decision that they won’t vote for taxes (except for roads) and try to deal with the huge increase in required K12 spending by cutting everything else and using a lot of one-time gimmicks. This results in many bad outcomes.
I made a proposal that both sides work through all the areas where we have significant differences and resolve the details of what we want to purchase. The Senate suggested we set a dollar limit (theirs) and work within that. The limit was low enough that it prevents making reasonable decisions. We are at a temporary impasse.