In early January, I shared my thoughts with you on the need for legislators to step up for the next generation and solve the education funding challenge this year.
A few months later, we continue to work towards a solution.
Like the arrival of spring, budget season is upon us in the Legislature. It’s time to sharpen our focus, and candidly converse about what still needs to be done and how we are going to pay for it.
Both sides, Democrat and Republican, Senate and House, have worked hard.
The last few years have shown significant investment, to the tune of almost an additional $5 billion in public schools. While that isn’t enough to finish the job, it is a significant step in the right direction.
Both sides have presented plans to fully fund education. Both propose new sources of revenue to get to a solution. Neither are perfect proposals.
On one side, the Senate Republicans are proposing a property tax hike that affects every homeowner across the state. On the House Democratic side, they are proposing a variety of progressive funding measures that mostly impact wealthy individuals in King County, along with high-grossing businesses across the state.
I’m not interested in further delay, just getting the job done. Now is the time for us to meet in the middle and find common ground.
Let’s take the Senate proposal. I agree that we need to find some solution for areas, like University Place, that pay a higher property tax rate than other cities due to local levies. We’re paying more than our fair share and that must change. But as a former school board president, I value our school districts having local control and the Senate proposal takes away too much control.
The House budget doesn’t address the need for a levy cap much, though we are committed to ensuring that how we pay for what we fund is fair for taxpayers. It’s a bit of a best kept secret but Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the nation. We have close to 700 tax loopholes—many of which are wasteful—that shift a crushing tax burden to small business and middle and low-income citizens. Both sides can and should come together to make needed tax reforms across the board.
On the House side, our proposal puts more money into schools and classrooms, invests heavily in early learning, and freezes college tuition while increasing financial aid. It does not rely on budget cuts or tax increases that disproportionately hurt working and middle class families.
I like that approach. By putting families first while protecting taxpayers, the House budget fully funds education and allows communities to thrive and grow.
With only a few weeks left, a timely budget compromise grows slimmer the longer both parties wait to come to the bargaining table. House leadership says they are ready to meet and I hope the Senate is ready as well. We cannot keep waiting.
Another area that requires frank discussion is the controversy surrounding the Sound Transit car-tab tax hike.
Our legislative district said no to Sound Transit 3 (ST3) in the last election and in 2015, I voted against the transportation revenue bill authorizing that vote because I worried about issues like the one we’re facing today. It was too much money without projects that benefit University Place.
Now that the public is being hit with these taxes, some legislators have been quick to attack Sound Transit and blame them. Though not blameless, Sound Transit did what the Legislature authorized it to do in 2015. That transportation revenue package was not only a green light for the ST3 vote – it also included a record-setting gas tax hike.
Ironically, legislators who are now putting the blame on Sound Transit voted yes on a bill to allow your car tab fees to go up in the first place and yes to paying more at the pump.
Elected lawmakers need to accept responsibility for mistakes and then work to fix them. I’ve proposed and co-sponsored measures that will improve efficiency in our county transit agencies as they work with Sound Transit, return some money to people’s pockets, and more fairly assess the value of your car to avoid this problem in the future.
I’m ready to work with my colleagues to meet these challenges and keep Washington moving forward. But we have to quickly move towards finding common ground in an open and focused fashion. Otherwise, we’re going to be here until July.
I ask you to hold us accountable so we can have a forthright dialogue that will lead to real results.