Gov. Jay Inslee and the Legislature's Democrats and Republicans are like the generals of World War I. They repeatedly order doomed frontal attacks on well-entrenched foes. Result: lots of casualties with no real gains.
From the left come continual assaults on the same tax breaks. Each attempt is guaranteed defeat by the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus — the 24-Republican-two-Democrat alliance that controls that Senate. Inslee and the Democrats recycle the same bills over and over, as if assuming the Republicans will magically change their minds without getting anything in return.
From the right, Republicans and the Majority Coalition engage in similar tactics as they face the financial pressures created by a 2012 Washington Supreme Court order to improve teacher-student ratios in Grades K-3. They stick to a position that they are immune to a Supreme Court ruling. Or they propose finding the money for schools by slashing the other expenses in the state budget, meaning mostly social services. All the while, they know tthe House Democrats will never go along.
No one has tried to change tactics. No one has publicly tried to split the differences on the big stuff. No obvious horse-trading is taking place. Both sides frequently take all-or-nothing stances with their opponents. Excuses for inaction spark more passion and creativity than attempts to compromise. Posturing for the home crowd — each party's core of voters — has run amok.
The results: A 60-day legislative session is almost over with lots of saber-rattling and no real progress on Olympia's two most-important issues — the court's McCleary ruling on education and passing a package of highway, bridge and ferry improvements.
With the end of the session scheduled for Thursday, here's where we are on those two issues.
The McCleary swamp: "McCleary" is the name for the 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligations to provide a "basic education " for Washington's kids. A key part says Washington must drastically improve the teacher-to-student ratios in grades K-3. In other words, the state has to help schools hire more elementary teachers and build the additional classrooms for them to use. The price tag for the McCleary work from 2013- to 2019 is an extra $4 billion to $4.5 billion. So far, roughly $1 billion has been raised for 2013-2015. And that does not include additional cash needed to revive long-dormant teachers' cost-of-living raises, which voters approved.
Republicans and especially the Senate Majority Coalition have refused to seriously approach the $4 billion price tag matter. They want to change administrative procedures in education, but have balked at even speculating how to raise the money for the extra elementary teachers. Returning to the World War I generals analogy, they want to change staff procedures instead of getting more soldiers onto the battlefield. The coalition has talked more about ignoring the Supreme Court ruling than how to find $3 billion to $3.5 billion still needed for 2015-2019.
Last week, Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said there is no chance in the Senate for Democrats' bills to close tax breaks and enact a tax on electronic cigarettes to pay for the McCleary upgrades and teachers' cost-of-living raises. However, he could not say how else the coalition would raise at least $1.5 billion needed for 2015-2017. The Supreme Court has set a deadline of April 30 for the Legislature to come up with a plan. The Republicans have had at least one-and-a-half years to ponder that question.
"Maybe it's human nature to ignore a problem and think it'll go away," Inslee said Thursday.
Late last week, the coalition's lead budget writer, Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, revived a bill that he introduced in March 2013 to funnel more money to schools. That bill did not move in 2013 and no action has been on it so far this legislative session. But the bill is now scheduled for a Senate Ways & Means Committee hearing Monday -- four days before the session ends. That bill would allocate two-thirds of new state revenue growth to education. As of Sunday, no financial analysis had been provided for the bill.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!