WRC assesses state budget: “Improving Economy Allows for Significant Spending on Education Without New Taxes”

The Washington Research Council today released its analysis of the recently adopted state budget. The special report, “Improving Economy Allows for Significant Spending on Education Without New Taxes,” provides an excellent overview of the new budget, detailing revenue and spending changes.

The Legislature significantly increased funding for early learning, public schools, and higher education, while reducing college tuition. The public schools increase builds on last biennium’s initial efforts to respond to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on school funding. As enacted, 2015–17 appropriations are $38.219 billion on a near general fund– state plus opportunity pathways basis. This is a 13.1 percent increase over 2013–15. 

The Council writes:

The 2015–17 operating budget agreement involved concessions from all sides. It balances over four years, leaving an ending fund balance of $1.414 billion after the 2017–19 biennium.

Before the regular session began, Gov. Inslee proposed increasing taxes by $1.6 billion (including by imposing a brand new capital gains tax and cap and trade program). Instead, taxes are increased by only $180.1 million. Meanwhile, NGFS+ spending increased by 13.1 percent over 2013–15. This is a substantial amount—it is the highest spending increase since 2005–07 (17.9 percent). That said, 2015– 17’s increase is smaller than the maintenance level indicated (again, maintenance level is the costs of continuing current services). But the spending in 2015– 17 is more focused on education than it has been recently—education’s share of NGFS+ spending is the highest since 1993–95.

Finally, they point out we may not be finished with budget work yet.

The Legislature owes the state Supreme Court a report this month on the progress it made during the legislative sessions towards meeting its obligations under the McCleary decision. If the Court finds that the Legislature’s progress is inadequate, it could impose contempt sanctions. Although the budget prioritizes spending for education, the question of how to increase state funding and reduce local funding of teacher compensation remains unresolved.

More to come.