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Sen. Rodney Tom: Give college savings program the budget ax

First on the list of state cuts to adequately fund education? A state program to help families save for college.
Shoreline Community College's campus in fall.

Shoreline Community College's campus in fall. Shoreline Community College


De facto Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, said Thursday that the Guaranteed Education Tuition program — dubbed  "GET" — will likely be proposed as a cut by the largely Republican coalition he helped form in December. Tom contends it has put the state $631 million in the hole. The GET program allows families to pay for state university tuitions in segments years in advance of a child actually attending college, with the program — not the child's parents — compensating for increased tuition.

House Speaker Frank Chopp and de facto Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, did not object to Tom targeting the GET program Thursday at an Associated Press forum in Olympia that featured Gov.-elect Jay Inslee and legislative leaders. The House's lead budget writer, Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and chairman of the Senate's Education Committee, Sen.Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said they would look into whether or not the GET program should be eliminated. Hunter said that such a cut would be difficult.  

The Legislature faces a potential $2.5 to $3 billion revenue shortfall during 2013-2015, which includes the additional funding needed to adequately pay for K-12 education, as ordered by a recent Washington Supreme Court ruling. (Republicans put that number at $924 million, while Democrats say it's likely to be more like $1.4 billion.)  Between 2011 and 2013 the state will have spent $13.65 billion for K-12 education.

Democrats want to tack on more money to teachers' and administrators'  salaries than the Republicans do, Plus  they want to allocate more funds than Republicans to the addition of more clals hours and high schools credits. The Republicans' stance is that the Democrats want to spend more money than the Supreme Court desires. Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn supports the Democrats' position, while believing the amount of needed money is even higher.

"I have a number in my head [to fund K-12 education], but I can't tell you if I have the money in my pocket," Inslee said Thursday. Inslee indicated that his target for extra education money is about $1 billion. 

Inslee, Republicans and both Democrats in the Republican coalition (Tom and fellow maverick Sen.Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch) all contend that the overall and education shortfalls can be filled without raising taxes. Tom's targeting of the GET program Thursday was the first specific proposed cut to be unveiled beyond some general talk of zeroing in on health and human services.

House and Senate Republicans want to fully fund K-12 education before tackling the rest of the state's operations budget. Murray and Chopp said education is their caucuses' top priority, but stopped short of the Republican stance of tackling education funding solo and then budgeting for everything else. "Education is the top priority, but not the only one," Chopp said.

Despite the GOP coalition's stance against new taxes, Tom and outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire pinned some hope for tax revenues on Congress repealing parts of a 1998 federal law that prohibits states from collecting sales taxes from online businesses. Tom said such a congressional move could bring $500 million in extra revenue to Washington in 2013-2015, while Gregoire put the same number at $384 million.

Democrats have already floated some trial balloons on potential new taxes that might be considered, including taxes on corporate carbon emissions, capital gains, wholesale fuel sales, gum, candy and soda. A 5 percent capital gains tax on more than the first $10,000 in earning could raise $650 million to $1.4 billion. Expiring taxes that could be renewed include a beer tax, a hospital beds tax and a 0.3 percent business and occupation services surcharge — measures that could raise $650 million to $912 million a year.

Meanwhile, the legislative leaders said educational reforms should be addressed independently of the funding issues. "Education is about more than just dollars. It's about reform," Tom said.

Dorn said one reform in the pipeline is expanding the criteria by which teachers' and students' progress are measured. A more efficient way of scheduling teachers' training days will also be explored. 

John Stang is a longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a Masters of Communications in Digital Media degree at the University of Washington. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jan 10, 6:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Just what I suspected. Republicans want us to be ignorant, and the sooner the better.

ivan

Posted Thu, Jan 10, 8:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Taking a no taxes stance as strong as Senator Tom has taken, but at the same time being A-OK with a $500,000,000 tax increase if the feds change the law, seems like the height of hypocrisy.

Ryan

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 7:26 a.m. Inappropriate

So much for middle class focused budget he promised. And what happens to those that paid in?

BrettHill

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 8:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Since the GET program is now charging a substantial premium for new purchases ($17,200 for a years guaranteed tuition that presently costs $12,383 at the UW) it is not at all clear that cutting the program, as opposed to encouraging new enrollees to subsidize those early enrollees who got tuition at bargain prices, will benefit the state financially.

WSDW

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 10:35 a.m. Inappropriate

I am so disheartened at this news. Our son started university this year, and we are using our GET investments to pay for part of that bill, but I'm not concerned about my family. The GET program has been an easy way to encourage families to think ahead, to plan for their kids' post K-12 education, and to start saving early enough to amortize those costs over a longer period. I know there are other, private investment plans that we could have used, but we were happy to participate in a state-run program that was tied to our local higher education establishment. The fact that the state made a commitment to this kind of long-range planning was a sign that they took high education seriously, and wanted families to take it seriously as well.

If the current program needs fine-tuning, then work on it, but to "target" it for "elimination" at a time when the state is supposed to be grappling with how to find more money to support education from kindergarten to college is ridiculous -- I am disgusted. Representative Rep. Ross Hunter says that eliminating the program would be "difficult?" Families all over the state, who have been participating in the GET program, would use much more vivid terms.

sandik

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 10:07 p.m. Inappropriate

The question is, who makes up the difference? The tooth fairy or...

Djinn

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 11:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Capital gains tax.

So, GET will be targeted by Tom, the "fiscal conservative"; yet nary a word about the two billion dollars of State subsidies going to corporations, and business. That is the State provided subsidy. I have not seen a collated amount for local government subsidy, such as the subsidy Redmond provides Microsoft. Microsoft gets a reported 300 million dollars a year in subsidy from the state.

Anyway, Washington State students are just in the way at our global state college, and university, system. They also cut into profits.

That is one thing the Senate is absolutely bi-partisan about; not mentioning anything about the subsidies, or cutting the subsidies. Not even one word.

Capital Gains Tax.

jhande

Posted Sat, Jan 12, 9:36 a.m. Inappropriate

The GET Program is an expensive service affordable only by middle and upper income citizens who have private college savings accounts available for the same purpose. One of the major goals of the prime sponsors of GET was to keep tuition low so the state wouldn't need to subsidize the program. That ship has apparently sailed. The roughly half a billion dollars that may be required to bail out the program could also be used to hold down tuition or help low income students get an education.

Governing requires hard choices. Ironically, eliminating an attractive but unnecessary program may actually increase higher ed opportunities for middle and low income students. Those kind of ironies abound in the governing game but they are hard to explain so are often missing from the understandings people have about legislative proposals.

Posted Mon, Jan 14, 5:12 p.m. Inappropriate

jhande--So, GET will be targeted by Tom, the "fiscal conservative"; yet nary a word about the two billion dollars of State subsidies going to corporations, and business.

Two Billion? Try more like nearly $50 billion that you and I will so graciously provide for individuals AND Corporations this year alone...let alone nearly $100 billion over the biennia....and guess what? Not even a word about that...we bite and gnash teeth about a billion dollar deficit, yet support nearly $100 billion this biennia in tax cuts...oops I mean exemptions. Over 500 of them...listed beautifully on the Dept. of Revenue website... How about just a suspension, not elimination, but a suspension of 2% of those exemptions would balance the budget.

Good grief...

Rich1

Posted Thu, Jan 17, 2:19 p.m. Inappropriate

I would end the lion's share of these subsidies. We are being played for fools with the "deficit" talk. I don't see much changing; Inslee had Brad Owen of Microsoft establish his administration. What we have is the Medina/Hunts Point wealthy that will be operating our state government. These are the same individuals, who receive the subsidy.The Medina/Hunts point wealthy are also the owners of the State Senate enabled by the Medina politician Tom. We are screwed.

jhande

Posted Wed, Jan 16, 7:52 p.m. Inappropriate

No capital gains tax.

Posted Fri, Jan 18, 4:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Crazylady's right. This program benefits upper-middle-income families. Considering how badly the new "coalition' will be hurting low-wage people with their crappy cuts, this isn't worth worrying about.

sarah90

Posted Fri, Jan 18, 4:33 p.m. Inappropriate

And I meant crankyoldlady, not crazylady.

sarah90

Posted Sun, Jan 20, 11:09 p.m. Inappropriate

And what is the point of closing the program exactly? It's completely self-funded by the people who choose to participate. It doesn't cost the state a dime right now, but closing it sure will. If terminated, they have to pay out to every person with an account and there's definitely not enough money to do that. If they close it to new customers and allow the existing customers to stay in, there will have to be some way to pay staff to keep it open until the last one is done - which will be decades. Even former Gov. Gregoire opened an account for unborn grandchild. The program isn't hurting anyone, it's actually helping the middle class who will eventually get squeezed out of higher education at the rate things are going.

argh2013

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