The Republican response to Gov. Jay Inslee's proposals to increase the state minimum wage and to add $200 million in 2104 to meet a state Supreme Court ruling to upgrade Washington's schools?
When Hell freezes over.
It could be that kind of legislative session.
In his State of the State speech Tuesday, Inslee unveiled both proposals. On the minimum wage, he pointed to the growing national problem of income equality — the increasing gap between the richest and poorest people in America. Washington already has the nation's highest minimum wage.
"I don't have the exact number for what amount our minimum wage should be. ... It won't be a number that remedies 50 years of income equality," he said. "But I believe that an increase in the range of $1.50 to $2.50 is a step forward toward closing the widening economic gap. There is ample evidence that a raise in that range does not kill jobs. An increase in the minimum wage means more money being spent in our economy," Inslee said.
Washington's minimum wage is $9.32 an hour, the top among states. Inslee's proposal would increase it to $10.82 to $11.82 an hour. Seattle is seriously looking at increasing its minimum wage, with $15 an hour being the top target.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Inslee's proposal "helps our efforts in Seattle. ... People are struggling in Eastern Washington with two or three jobs, just like Western Washington."
Inslee also stressed education, noting that the Washington Supreme Court — in an 8-1 ruing last week — said that the Legislature is behind on dealing with a 2012 decision that the state has failed to meet its constitutional obligations on teacher-student ratios in the lower grades, high school credits and hours taught per year in high school. Last weeks' court ruling on the state's progress toward meeting a mid-2019 target focused on the Legislature underfunding that work in 2013-2015.
The math works like this. The state calculated it would need $4 billion to $4.5 billion in extra appropriations from 2013 through mid-2019 to meet the Supreme Court's requirements. Republican resistance trimmed the original proposals of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion to $982 million in 2013-2015, which also used one-time budget shifts. That means the Legislature will need to appropriate $1.5 billion to $1.75 billion each for 2015-207 and 2017-2019 to meet the ruling's requirements. Last week, the Supreme Court gave the Legislature until April 30 to produce a catch-up plan.
"The court wrote that it wants to see 'immediate. concrete action ... not simply promises.' I agree," Inslee said. Consequently, he wants to allocate another $200 million in 2014 to chip away at the 2102 court ruling's obligations, plus to provide some cost-of-living adjustments to teachers — raises that have been suspended for years. He proposed to raise the money by closing some tax exemptions. But he has not yet identified what exemptions would be targeted.
Republicans and Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina and leader of the 24-Republican-two-Democrat Majority Coalition Caucus that controls the Senate, said both proposals are non-starters for them.
"We already have the highest minimum wage in the country," Tom said. Senate Republican Caucus Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, said increasing the minimum wage would put a crippling burden on small businesses. Republicans pointed especially to businesses near Oregon and Idaho, which already have lower minimum wages. Also, Schoesler said a higher minimum wage would hurt Washington's farm exports because they would have compete against cheaper exports from other states.
"I wouldn't hire Jay Inslee as my economist," said Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.
Seattle Top Story has education comments from Gov. Inslee and Sen. Tom
At the same time, Tom and Republican leaders sharply declared that the Supreme Court overstepped its judicial boundaries in declaring that the state is not allocating enough money to comply with the 2012 education ruling. And they repeated their stance that reforms, not extra money, will cure the state's education problems.
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