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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As we finish the month of August and head into a new school year, I would like to take a moment to provide an update from Olympia.
Read our 5th District Legislative Review
Rep. Jay Rodne and I recently worked together to write a newsletter that looks back at the successes of the 2015 session and special sessions. The 5th District Legislative Review is now arriving in mailboxes. However, you can read it online by clicking here.
State Supreme Court sanctions
Before I discuss the recent actions of the state Supreme Court, I want to note that I am very proud of the bipartisan operating budget the Legislature approved at the end of June which provides historic funding increases for K-12 education. The new 2015-17 budget:
- Invests an additional $2.9 billion in K-12 education, a 19 percent increase;
- Dedicates 48 percent of the state budget for K-12 education — the largest amount in more than 30 years;
- Provides cost-of-living increases for teachers, plus a one-time salary raise; and
- Makes major investments in early learning, expands all-day kindergarten, and reduces class sizes in grades K-3, where research shows it does the most good.
Despite these historic new investments and K-12 funding increases, the state Supreme Court said it wasn't enough. On Aug. 13, justices ordered contempt sanctions against the state in the amount of $100,000 a day until the Legislature delivers an education funding plan that satisfies the court and shows how the state will fully fund education by 2018.
The high court asked the governor to convene a fourth special session. As the court's press release says, “Sanctions accrue daily, to be held in a segregated account for the benefit of basic education until the contempt order is lifted.”
Levy reform key component toward addressing McCleary concerns
The Aug. 13 order is the latest action that follows previous rulings going back to January 2012 under what is known as the “McCleary decision.” This is the high court ruling that declared the state is “not meeting its paramount duty…to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”
As noted above, we made significant progress toward that goal during the 2015 sessions. However, one concern that the court noted is schools are relying too heavily on local property tax levies for a gap in salaries and other funding not provided by the state.
We knew levy reform was an important piece of unfinished business when the Legislature adjourned in July. And in fact, there were attempts during the sessions to pass levy reform, but the lack of consensus prevented these efforts from advancing. So we felt it was best to work on a levy reform solution that could be ready for the 2016 legislative session in January.
The 'Levy Swap'
What's our state's most regressive tax? It's the local school levy, where areas with high property values, such as Seattle and Bellevue, pay less than 30 percent of the median tax rate, while the most impoverished areas of our state pay significantly more. See the chart below.
One of the reforms under discussion is the so-called “levy swap,” which would implement a revenue-neutral swap of state property tax for local levies, and stay within the constitutional 1 percent limit for regular property taxes. This would bring $1 billion of existing local excess levies into a more regular and dependable tax structure – the statewide property tax. The reluctance, however, comes largely from rich property valued areas that would likely pay more under the levy swap.
Where we go from here
Although the court wants the Legislature to be called into an immediate special session, the governor and legislative leaders have decided it is best not to rush the process, but to do it correctly. They have decided to let the fines accrue and appoint a bipartisan team to address education funding concerns, including levy reform. As the lead Republican on the House Education Committee, I will be serving on that team.
If we come up with solutions before January, a fourth special session could be called. I believe it's more likely we use the remaining interim productively and have legislation ready to be passed before the Legislature adjourns its 2016 session in March.
As we move forward, I welcome your thoughts on this or other legislative issues. My contact information can be found below.
Thank you for allowing me the honor to serve and represent you.
427 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7876 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000