Holiday Roundup 2: Governor’s budget, education funding and 2017 Legislature

We’ve been on a bit of a holiday hiatus over the last few weeks, but couldn’t resist occasionally dipping into the news cycle. As 2017 begins, there are a few storied we wanted to call out in a short series of roundup posts. 

In this second roundup, we link to editorial commentary and reports on the governor’s budget proposal, the coming legislative session and education funding.

The Columbian: Get in Gear on McCleary

Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed budget, which was issued last week, recommends $3.9 billion in increased spending for K-12 education over the next biennium…Inslee’s proposal was immediately decried by some lawmakers…

We agree that new taxes should be a last resort, yet we are eager to hear some alternatives, the kind that lawmakers have been unable or unwilling to generate…

Inslee said: “I think in this process, listening will be more important than twisting arms. These are hard things to do.”

Seattle Times: Inslee seeks biggest business-tax increase in decades to fund schools

If adopted, Inslee’s business-tax increase would be the biggest since 1993, when then-Gov. Mike Lowry and lawmakers similarly raised B&O taxes on service businesses and others as part of a $668 million tax package in response to a budget shortfall. Those tax increases were repealed a few years later.

Inslee’s proposal already is drawing firm opposition from Republicans who hold a majority in the state Senate.

“It’s staggering, frankly,” said state Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, vice chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “There’s no way something like this comes out of the Senate. It’s not even open for discussion until House Democrats pass it out of their chamber.”

The Columbian: New Year Offers Hope

Proposals to meet this paramount duty run the gamut from increasing taxes to rewriting the constitution so that fully funding schools is no longer a requirement. The best plan is yet to emerge. But after five years of studying and dithering, it’s time for a solution. We need a predictable tax and education structure so that we can plan for our families and our businesses.

Tri-City Herald: Inslee’s plan to fund McCleary likely DOA but challenges Legislature to act

Washington voters have told poll-takers for years that quality public education should be the state’s No. 1 priority.  They seem to understand our need to do better in science and math to fill jobs in a technology economy.

At the same time, however, Washington voters don’t want new taxes.  

Seattle Times: Q&A: Marty Brown shares what he’s learned after four years of steering Washington’s community colleges

We are still struggling to get back to 2007 levels of state funding, and when you combine that with a drop in enrollments because the economy’s improved, and tuition reductions, it’s a triple whammy. Our enrollments are down 25,000 to 30,000 from the height of the recession in full-time equivalents. The Legislature obviously cut a lot of funds from everywhere during the recession, and we just have not been able to recover. I think a lot is cyclical … We’ve been focused so much, since the recovery began, on K-12. But we need to have places for these students to go (after graduation).

Seattle Times: State needs its community colleges, and needs to fund them, says system’s retiring chief

“Our state obviously needs bachelor’s degrees, but it also needs lots of middle-skill jobs,” which require training beyond just a high-school degree, he said. “We need more truck drivers, we need more nurses, we need folks who build things.”

Brown said 12 percent of community-college students already have a bachelor’s degree. They return to school either because they can’t find a job or want to try something new that involves working with their hands.

The Columbian: State undertakes pilot study to replace gas tax with a “road user charge”

The Washington State Transportation Commission is undertaking a pilot study on the feasibility of replacing the gas tax with a per-mile “road user charge.”

…Vehicle owners would pay the state based on how much they use streets and highways, not by how much fuel they buy.