Editorials: Union-Bulletin says lawmakers fulfilled McCleary order; Everett Herald finds capital budget failure mars record

Editorial boards continue to review the legislative session. As we’ve written previously (here, here and here), most papers – like most Washingtonians we suspect – would like to see a Hirst fix and capital budget. But on the big issues – the budget and school funding – there appears to be growing agreement that, despite the messy and lengthy process, lawmakers did their jobs.

The Walla Walla Union-Bullet editorial board is clear: 

While the state Legislature did not necessarily get an A-plus for its effort to fully fund basic eduction as mandated by the state Supreme Court, it nevertheless got the job done.

As a result, Attorney General Bob Ferguson properly filed papers in court asking the high court to drop its contempt order against the state.

The editorial notes the plaintiffs’ objection and rejects it.

Tom Ahearne, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the McCleary lawsuit against the state, told The Associated Press that reducing the amount collected by the local levy system and handing it back through the statewide property tax is not the way to amply fund the schools.

“They’re reshuffling deck chairs,” he said.

Really, how then is the state adding another $7.3 billion in education funding over the next four years if it’s just reshuffling?

…The high court ordered the state to equally and fully fund basic eduction. That has been done.

The Everett Herald joins others in faulting lawmakers for failing to produce a capital budget, saying it mars an overall good legislative record. The editorial reviews a number of positive achievements, including education funding, paid family and medical leave, the distracted driving law, and changes in graduation requirements. Of the budget, the editorial says,

It significantly increased funding for K-12 education — allocating $7.3 billion more to be spent over the next four years — and changed the state tax system to end the state’s past reliance on local school levies to pay for a significant share of teacher salaries and other expenses of basic education.

Acknowledging that school districts are still trying to determine how they will fare under the new funding formula and that the court has yet to decide, the editorial goes on to review other budget items,

he $43.7 billion operating budget for 2017-19, along with the K-12 enhancements, increased funding for the state’s mental health system, including $60 million for more staffing and quality of care at state hospitals and funding for more community treatment beds, walk-in clinics and an increase in Medicaid rates paid to behavioral health agencies; $13 million for foster care and adoption support programs; $6 million to launch the new Department of Children, Youth and Families; expanded funding for early childhood education; funds for higher education grants and scholarships, medical education programs at the University of Washington and Washington State University and expansion of STEM enrollments at UW and the state’s community and technical colleges; and raises for most state employees, including Washington State Patrol troopers.

In all, a lot got done on a bipartisan basis, as the editorial concludes. And it still remains possible that negotiators will find a way to address Hirst and pass a capital budget. We hope so.