Legislature tracker: How did lawmakers do on some of the state's biggest needs?

Education, competitiveness, dealing with tax loopholes: Our elected representatives struggled long and not always successfully with these issues.
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Education, competitiveness, dealing with tax loopholes: Our elected representatives struggled long and not always successfully with these issues.

As Gov. Jay Inslee on Sunday signed the state budget Sunday, he said the Legislature's spending package would allow the state to do good work in many areas. Here's a look at some of the key areas what theLegislature did on some of the big tasks facing lawmakers during the 2013 legislative session.

Education Funding

The assignment: Everybody knew that the biggest task would be boosting the state's unconstitutionally inadequate support for education. In the wake of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, an appointed group of lawmakers worked for months last year to develop a bipartisan plan. Result: complete fail, setting the stage for a divisive 2013 session.

Session action: Lawmakers went back and forth for months. The Senate proposed writing an education budget first, then dividing up the remaining funds for everything else. Democrats argued for new revenue sources to do a good job on education while expanding Medicare and preserving social services that had already been cut in the weak economy.

Final outcome: Both sides agreed to spend an extra $1 billion to improve student-teacher ratios in the the kindgartens and first grades in the state's most impoverished schools, and to begin installing all-day kindergartens. That money will also increase the hours that high school students are taught each year. And the state will pay for the support to accomplish those goals. But  Republicans and Democrats will have to raise signficantly more than $1 billion in extra money in both 2015-2017 and 2017-2019 to meet the Supreme Court's goals.

Education reform 

The assignment: Everyone wanted to improve K-12 education in Washington. But no one agrees how to do that.

Session action: The Democrats argue more money must be raised by closing tax exemptions. Republicans said that closing tax exemptions would hurt the economy, and that education reforms are much more needed than simply raising more money for schools. The Republican-oriented Senate repeatedly stopped the Democrats'  efforts to raise money by closing tax exemptions. The Democratic-controlled House blocked the Republicans'  education reform bills.

Outcome: Apparently as part of the end-of-session horsetrading, the House let some relatively minor Senate reform bills pass, including one regarding a process to identify low-performing schools and set up a framework to improve them. But three controversial Senate bills died in various stages in the House. These stopped bills were to give schools grades such A, B, C, D and F; keeping students in third grade if they don't  pass reading tests; and requiring mutual consent between a teacher and principal before a teacher is assigned to a school. 

Dealing with tax loopholes

The assignment: Between them,  Gov. Jay inslee and Democratic legislators wanted to close roughly 20 tax exemptions to pay for education improvements. Republicans view many tax exemptions as important tools to boost tthe economy — and, while they were interested in controlling the exemptions, they said that removing any amounted to tax increases at a bad time for many struggling businesses.

Session action: Irresistible force met immovable object. This matter was the biggest contributor to this session's deadlock — putting the Legisalture into double overtime. 

Outcome: Republicans essentially won this fight, stopping most of the Dems' attempts. The Democrats managed to persuade the GOP to close two tax exemptions to  pay for the Supreme Court's education improvements — and both came as parts of swaps between the House and Senate on a variety of issues, including the creation or extension of other exemptions. . Seventeen tax exemptions were created or extended, totaling about $13million in lost 2013-2015 revenue in return for hoped-for help to certain businesses.  The two closed tax exemptions were an inheritance tax loophole for married couples and on landline phones. The two sides also agreed to set expiration dates and specific job-creation goals on future tax exemptions.    

Business competitiveness and opportunity

The assignment: Find a balance of state revenues, taxes, transportation and higher education that creates individual opportunity, a strong workforce and the ability to move goods and people without crushing businesses.

Session action: Democrats emphasized cutting select tax loopholes that don't really spur business investment to raise money for a healthy, well-educated population. And they pushed a big transportation package, one heavy enough on new highway projects that it worried many of their enviro friends. Republicans fought to reduce workers compensation costs for businesses and said they wanted a better deal for the state's higher education institutes battered by years of dramatic cuts. They generally wanted to hold any gas tax decision for new transportation projects until at least next year.

Outcome: This was essentially a bloody tie. Neither side really got what it wanted to change. Each settled for denying the other its goals. The Senate majority coalition stopped a $10 billion House transportation revenue package that would have started new job-creatiing construction project  — but also would have have included a 10.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike and would have started work on replacing the aging bridge between Vancouver and Portland. Some Republicans  — especially from the Vancouver area — hated that replacement project with ta passion. Meanwhile, a slew of Senate workers compensation reform bills died in the House.

For all of Crosscut's exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8