When Gov. Chris Gregoire on May 2 signed the much-amended state budget, she had some blunt words for public education supporters, including the two leading candidates for governor.
Gregoire, who has not exactly been the strongest proponent of new tax revenue during her two terms, seemed to have experienced an epiphany on taxes after approving more than $11 billion in cuts since 2009. Her remarks didn’t get much attention in the news media. So here’s how she expressed her new position, with strong verbal emphasis that can’t be easily conveyed in excerpted quotes:
We cannot properly fund our schools, our colleges, our universities, and early childhood education in this state without more money….There is simply not enough money in our current revenue stream to keep up with the cost of educating our young people so they can compete in the 21st century.
And in response to a reporter’s question, she had equally strong words of advice on taxes for the two candidates who are vying to succeed her. Both Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna have said that a new tax source for education is not needed.
McKenna has suggested that discretionary funding for social programs can be reduced to fund education, and that “attrition” (retirement) should be allowed to further shrink the state’s workforce. Inslee believes that as the economy recovers more tax revenues will be generated that can be applied to education. He has proposed a jobs plan to put people back to work. McKenna would spur economic growth through reform of regulations and small business tax relief. Both McKenna and Inslee say that money can be found through greater program efficiencies, especially in health care delivery. Both think ending some tax breaks will provide revenue.
Responding, Gregoire didn’t mince words:
In 2013-15 (the next biennium) based on the legislation we passed, the price tag for K-12 education alone will be approximately $1 billion. So to think that the legislature can cut $1 billion — they’ve already cut $11 billion over the last three years – without destroying the safety net…. The idea that we are going to turn the economy around in a split second and get $1 billion projected, there is absolutely nothing in terms of a forecast that would suggest that to be true…We have to have a long-term sustainable source of funding.
She was equally animated and pessimistic on the potential for revenue by just ending tax breaks: “I gave them (legislators) a list as long as the moon, and what did they get me? Just one — for $18 million. They can’t get the two/thirds vote.”
And the governor clearly had taxpayers in mind:
The state of Washington has got to step up and understand: we are not going to meet our constitutional mandate for K-12 education, our moral mandate for early learning, and our economic mandate for higher education, if we are not going to look at new revenues.
Although the press corps didn’t ask the next obvious question — who should we look to for leadership in finding new tax revenues? —Gov. Gregoire volunteered that the joint task force established by House Bill 2824 will be instrumental.
HB 2824, sponsored by Rep. Deb Eddy, D-Kirkland, was introduced and passed late in the first special session, and signed by the governor on May 2. The bill established the task force to make recommendations for fully funding basic education programs, taking into account the requirements of two bills passed in 2009 and 2010, which redefined basic education and restructured the K-12 funding formulas. The Eddy bill also repealed Initiative 728 approved by voters in 2000 that had the purpose of increasing student achievement by reducing class size.
The 2010 bill enhanced funding of basic education over eight years in four areas:
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