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What Gregoire's late embrace of education taxes means

Surprisingly, the business community could be the key to deciding whether the state follows the lame-duck governor's well-spoken advice.
Gov. Chris Gregoire at a 2011 event in Seattle.

Gov. Chris Gregoire at a 2011 event in Seattle. Washington State Department of Transportation

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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Posted Tue, May 15, 12:46 a.m. Inappropriate

I think it's absurd to require a 1:17 teacher:student ratio in grades 1 to 3. My first-grade class in parochial school had 45 kids. We turned out just fine. Why? Because parents were involved, and cared, and the teachers had authority.

The plan is to implement the lowest ratios in high poverty areas? Why? Anyone will tell you that poor parents are less involved with their kids than more affluent ones. Parental involvement is the most important factor in education. Throwing the most teachers at the lowest social levels is a waste of money.

As for transportation, when will the schools wake up and implement neighborhood schools? It's foolish that so many kids in Seattle ride buses to school. They should be walking to schools in their own neighborhoods. It's cheaper, and binds them and their parents to their neighborhoods.

What I just wrote will be condemned by the "progressives" who monopolize what passes for a debate about education. But next year, when Seattle's school bureaucrats come to the voters for a billion dollar tax school tax increase, just watch us vote it down.


Posted Tue, May 15, 8:08 a.m. Inappropriate

As a former low-income single mother, I take offense at your remark that "poor parents are less involved with their kids than more affluent ones."

Not only is this a stereotype, but my mother who was a divorcee with four kids and two jobs was very involved with our education as I was with my only child.

I have a sister who teaches 2nd grade with over 26 children in the classroom and no assistance (and very little money for the supplies that make learning to read not only productive but also fun) and her experiences tell a far different story than your letter.

All children learn differently and to ask a teacher to teach one end of the spectrum or another is a disservice to all the students, especially in these days of student testing.


Posted Tue, May 15, 2:18 p.m. Inappropriate

You're an exception to the rule. One of my brothers is a teacher in a big-city school system back East, and he sends his kids to a suburban system. He says the parents in his system don't prepare their kids for school, and he didn't want his kids slowed down.

In any case, the schools will have to learn to live within their budget. Another big issue is special education. The category has been stretched beyond all recognition, and needs to be radically downsized. You cannot expect to have people constantly pat you on the head and shovel their money your way. It's not sustainable.


Posted Tue, May 15, 4:56 a.m. Inappropriate

What I don't understand is why the Governor vetoed funding to continue work on the Washington Investment Trust. Why, when small businesses are struggling to get credit to invest in improving/expanding would she not want to invest in the future? Small business is a major engine for employment in our state. Instead our tax dollars continue to benefit Wall Street and the big banks like BofA which are largely responsible for the economic crisis we are in.

If our economy were more robust and long term investments in infrasturcture to suppor it were underway then funding for schools would not be such an issue.

Who is the Governor working for anyway, us or them?


Posted Tue, May 15, 4:44 p.m. Inappropriate

That thing was a "progressive" boondoggle that deserved to die.


Posted Tue, May 15, 6:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Democrat Embraces Taxes.
In other news: Dog Bites Man


Posted Tue, May 15, 10:46 a.m. Inappropriate

I have an idea: An actual educator should fill one of the spots on the education funding task force. Educators and parents were the ones who showed true leadership and won the school funding case against the state. It wasn't the business community.

We don't need more broken promises about school funding. If your kids are in elementary school, 2018 is a long time from now. If your kids are in secondary school (as my two sons are), they'll be in college by then -- if our state's public colleges and universities still exist.


Posted Tue, May 15, 11:40 a.m. Inappropriate

I have another idea: get the City of Seattle and King County out of our pockets and off our backs before even thinking of another tax. Repeal all the taxes for rail and transit and instead insist that the users, and only the users, fund them. Forget the downtown Seattle tunnel and rebuild the viaduct. Use the excess borrowing capacity to lower Seattle and King County taxes, and then maybe we'd want to give some $$ to the state.

Give a tax break to those of us who have not and will not use the schools. By the look of any written product coming out of folks educated in the last several decades by these schools, they're not learning much. Can't spell, can't count, poor grammar and syntax. What are we paying for that we are actually getting? Not very many educated young people. But teachers have several long breaks and regular shorter ones during every school year while we pay and pay. Stop wasting money on stupid new curricula that don't actually work for most people, and then when they don't work, wasting money on the next stupid new curriculum.

While it has long been the fashion to talk about getting government off our backs, those fetishizing that idea are always talking about the federal government while it's the city & county governments that are really bleeding us dry. The state needs to give every manager making over $100k/year a pay cut and insist that Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, and the other biggies enjoying tax benefits pay their fair share.

These ideas would make a start. If implemented, they might convince me another tax was worthwhile.


Posted Tue, May 15, 4:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Why do people butcher the English language so badly when commenting about education? Please try harder next time, "mspat." My fifth-grade English teacher would've had a field day with what you wrote!


Posted Wed, May 16, 11:41 a.m. Inappropriate

What's your example of my butchering the English language?


Posted Wed, May 16, 4:06 p.m. Inappropriate

You asked, so I'll answer.

Before I list the specifics, I'd like to say that I find it ironic and amusing that, regardless of where I see them, discussion threads about education tend to be full of the most fractured, incorrect nonsense. I read what people write in education threads, and wonder whether any of them were ever required to diagram a sentence. I am embarrassed for them.

With that, here goes:

In the first sentence, the "G" after the colon should be capitalized. The reason: It's the first letter in the first word of a complete sentence.

In last sentence of the first paragraph, one doesn't "lower" taxes. One "reduces" or "cuts" them. Also, the use of dollar signs later in that sentence is incorrect.

The third sentence of the second paragraph lacks basic subject-verb structure. As a result, it makes no sense at all.

The fifth sentence of the second paragraph lacks a verb.

The sixth sentence of the second paragraph is run-on, meaning that it combines two or more separate sentences in one, without using correct punctuation for doing so. The second half of that sentence is poorly constructed: "We pay and pay" for what?

The seventh sentence of the second paragraph is run-on.

The first sentence of the third paragraph is a poorly constructed mess. It's not technically run-on, but is just as confusing as a run-on sentence. "Getting government off our backs" is not a direct contrast to "bleeding us dry," so the two phrases don't belong in one sentence. Also, there are too many elements in the sentence. Finally, it uses an ampersand incorrectly.

The final sentence is run-on, combining two separate and unrelated ideas into one sentence. "$100K/year" is incorrect; so is "over" before it. The word "over" refers to physical position. It would have been correct to use "more than" there.


Posted Thu, May 17, 11:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, NotFan. That was a very interesting English lesson. I appreciate your thoughts. I don't, however, believe the transgressions you point out rise to a level that could be described as butchery. That said, I'm always glad to learn what I can from well-intentioned criticism. I share your appreciation for the irony you cite, that people commenting on education sometimes/often? appear poorly educated. Happily that's not the case for me. I just write casually when commenting in this context because I can.

I also note that you don't appear to be attacking my thoughts so much as the way in which I expressed them. If I remember correctly, that's the logical fallacy of ad hominem. It doesn't matter to me. From your other comments, it appears that you are an intelligent person who shares a number of my viewpoints, so I'd probably like you if I met you. One respectful suggestion, though: The sniping is unbecoming.


Posted Thu, May 17, 4:03 p.m. Inappropriate

You need to review the ad hominem fallacy, then: "a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument."

First, I made no claim about you. Second, even if I had done so, for example by calling you illiterate (which I did not do), in the context of a discussion about the validity of your views on education, such an attack wouldn't have been irrelevant.

It occurs to me that we do share some views. The fact that I'm willing to call you out in this case ought to reassure you, and the few other independent-minded persons around here, that I am in fact quite independent. I don't play favorites. What's good for the goose, and so on.

Indeed, I'd argue that what I did stands as a pretty good broader counterargument against your claim that I launched an ad hominem attack on you. Here you are, someone who I'd more often be inclined to agree with, yet I didn't hesitate to criticize your butchery of the language.

As for what constitutes butchery, we'll simply have to disagree. I think the standard of expression ought to be higher when discussing education. But even there, I wouldn't call someone out for random typographical errors. Your posting was full of problems, some more serious than others.

The bottom line: If you're caught in an error, just admit it. The false accusation of ad hominem, followed by what can only be characterized as defensive whining about "sniping," is what's unbecoming. Trust me, people screw it up. I do; and when I do, I admit it and move on. Try it sometime. Three of the most underused words in the language, at least in a particular order, are these: "I was wrong."


Posted Fri, May 18, 7:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Well, OK, then. I guess I didn't make my point as clearly as I intended. Let me put it this way. I am fine with the fact that you think my comment was poorly written. I am also fine with your opinion that folks commenting on education should write their comments in a way that you feel is correct. I am fine with the possibility that you disagree with my points, although I'm not sure whether you do or you don't. I reserve the right to say what I like in any way that I like. You are free to decide whether you think anything I write is "right" or "wrong," either in expression or content, and to give it whatever weight you believe it deserves. I do not feel I owe you, or anyone, agreement with anything. If you think I was wrong, that's your right. It's my right to say that I don't care, and that it was not my intent to seek your approval.


Posted Fri, May 18, 1:15 p.m. Inappropriate

I am also fine with your opinion that folks commenting on education should write their comments in a way that you feel is correct.

This would imply that you reject my list of corrections. They weren't a matter of opinion, but of your misuse of standard English.

I do not feel I owe you, or anyone, agreement with anything. If you think I was wrong, that's your right. It's my right to say that I don't care, and that it was not my intent to seek your approval.

Yes, it's your right to make a self-contradictory fool of yourself. I remind you that you asked for "your example of my butchering the English language." (I provided 13 examples.) You obviously cared, and still do.


Posted Tue, May 15, 2:49 p.m. Inappropriate

This new math the Governor and legislature are using doesn't add up, unless you graduated from a public school.


Posted Tue, May 15, 10:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Another Christine - former NJ Governor Christine Whitman (moderate Republican who appointed a liberal Democratic woman as State Chief Justice during her term) - recently expressed similar views in a criticism of current Gov. Christie.


Posted Wed, May 16, 9:34 a.m. Inappropriate

If the governor thinks this then why on earth didn't she advocate this position when she had come influence that might have gotten it enacted. It is sad that this state has such a weak governor.

Posted Wed, May 16, 1:17 p.m. Inappropriate

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.

Can someone please document the supposed "more than $11 billion in cuts"? State spending has gone up every year. There has not been any cut!


Posted Wed, May 16, 3:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Indeed, only a decrease in the rate of spending, but not spending itself. Laughable.


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