By Jerry Cornfield
OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats on Tuesday called for ending four tax breaks, including ones benefiting drinkers of bottled water and shoppers from Oregon, to push more dollars into public schools and give teachers a cost-of-living increase.
Closing the quartet of tax exemptions would bring in roughly $100 million a year for education, members of the Senate minority caucus said.
Those dollars would be spent to reduce the size of second-grade classes in high poverty schools, increase the number of all-day kindergarten programs and provide teachers their first cost-of-living increase in several years, according to the proposal.
Senate Democrats want to begin charging sales tax on bottled water, convert the sales tax exemption for out-of-state residents to a refund program, repeal a preferential tax rate for resellers of prescription drugs and end the tax break on fuel used internally at refineries.
Also Tuesday, Democrats introduced legislation which details the steps lawmakers should take to meet the state Supreme Court’s 2018 deadline to fully fund basic education for 1 million students.
Justices set the deadline in the so-called McCleary case because they found lawmakers approved a program of basic education in 2009 and 2010 but failed to pay for it as promised. It is estimated it will take as much as $5 billion a year more in spending on schools to comply.
Tuesday’s announcement came hours after Democratic and Republican budget writers put forth a supplemental budget that contained an additional $38 million for technology improvements at schools. The money would come from existing tax revenue and satisfy one element of the McCleary ruling.
Budget writers said they agreed not to pursue any significant investment in education until next year, when a new two-year budget will be drafted.
“We cannot wait until the next session to implement this. The court was clear we need to act,” said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, the ranking minority member of the Senate education committee.
Gov. Jay Inslee, who proposed raising $200 million from ending several additional tax preferences, applauded the “sound plan” put forth by the Democrats.
“This is a proposal that acknowledges we have significant work remaining to meet our McCleary obligation,” he said in a statement. “This plan shows students, educators, parents and the court that we’re serious about funding our paramount duty.”
On Wednesday, House Democrats are expected to unveil their own tax package to generate more money for schools.