Alternative Senate education-funding plan gets hearing; Seattle Times calls for more public input

Earlier we wrote about the education-funding plan proposed by centrist Democrats in the Senate. At the time, we said,

The Senate has already passed a comprehensive basic education funding and reform measure, so it’s not immediately clear when or if the Mullet proposal will get a hearing. Yet, as the two chambers appear divided, anything can happen as the Legislature attempts to wrap up the McCleary lawsuit. 

Well, the plan got a hearing yesterday. The Lens reports,

proposal by moderate Senate Democrats to fully fund basic education received both praise and concern from panel members and testifiers at a Monday, February 27 public hearing of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. SB 5825 would fund K-12 in part by converting existing local maintenance and operations levies into a permanent local property tax, similar to the Senate Republican’s SB 5607. However, it would keep existing levy rates intact rather than create a statewide rate as proposed in the Senate Republican plan.

As lawmakers continue to search for common ground on the McCleary fix, the centrist proposal may play a role.

Washington Roundtable Vice President Neil Strege told panel members “that it (SB 5825) seems to be worthy of being part of the dialogue. It’s good to have multiple approaches on the table, and I think this is a positive contribution to the conversation.”

He added that “it certainly contains the sustainability provisions that we’re looking for. It has a student-centered approach, but lacks the student-weighed formula that we would prefer.”

It’s not clear where it goes from here; there are a lot of pieces still in play. The Washington Research Council also wrote about SB 5825.

And catching up on some past business, we note that the Senate Ways and Means Committee moved the governor’s proposed $8 billion tax increase ahead, sort of.

Sen. John Braun, chair of the Senate budget committee, does not support the proposed tax increases but said allowing the Inslee-requested legislation to move ahead without comment would give lawmakers the chance to determine how much support actually exists.

“The governor and legislative Democrats consistently call for new taxes on Washington residents and employers, but it remains unclear whether or not they fully support the idea,” said Braun, R-Centralia, who serves as chief budget writer in the Senate. “Just this week House Democrats approved a spending wish list of more than $7 billion but declined to share how they planned to pay for it. We cannot wait another month to see if our colleagues across the aisle are serious about their plan to increase taxes on all Washingtonians.”

We have a hunch we may all be waiting another month to see what lawmakers can agree to when it comes to a McCleary fix. The Seattle Times editorial board wanted to see more input on the tax package.

Lawmakers should be encouraging citizen participation at every step and preparing for a deliberate, transparent process to finalize their education plan and budget.

So it’s a concern that last Friday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee declined to provide a standard public hearing on key education-funding bills.

The bills outline Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposals to fund education and other programs with new taxes on capital gains, service businesses and carbon emissions.

The editorial acknowledged Braun’s position: 

His reasoning: House Democrats still haven’t finished their education-funding proposal, and passing the bills to the full Senate will allow for negotiations to continue. It also enables the Senate to vote on the specific tax proposals.

And noted:

Braun said Inslee’s budget proposal was considered during an earlier public hearing before the committee. But that was on the second day of the Legislature, before the current tax bills were in hand.

Fair enough. Still, there’s little doubt the public will have other chances to weigh in, including – possibly – a vote on the tax package. The Senate-passed McCleary fix includes a referendum clause.