Inslee outlines plan for schools

OLYMPIA — Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday renewed his call for ending tax breaks to generate money for public schools and a cost of living increase for thousands of teachers.

But the first-term governor’s proposal met immediate resistance from Republican lawmakers who defeated the same approach a year ago.

Inslee outlined a plan to raise $200 million a year by getting rid of seven tax breaks, including a sales tax exemption on bottled water and a provision allowing some out-of-state residents to avoid paying sales taxes on purchases in Washington.

He wants to pour about $130 million into books, supplies, electricity and other operating costs of school districts for the 2014-15 school year. About $74 million would cover a 1.3 percent cost-of-living pay adjustment for employees of schools and community and technical colleges. It would be the first COLA for them in five years.

The plan will keep the state on pace to comply with the Supreme Court order in the McCleary case to fully fund the cost of basic education by 2018, Inslee said.

“This is the right step at the right time,” he said. “It is a necessary step.”

Republicans disagreed. Leaders of the GOP-led Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate contend lawmakers made a $1 billion infusion into education last year and that is good enough until the next two-year budget is written in 2015.

Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, the chief budget writer for the Senate, said it was tough to get that agreement in 2013 and will be tougher “to go in and try to rejigger (the budget) on a level the governor wants” in the remaining seven weeks of the 2014 session.

“We did a lot of work last year,” he said. “I think there is a fairly broad consensus that in a 60-day session with only 44 days left it’s going to be hard to do something that is going to really reopen the whole budget.”

Inslee and Democratic lawmakers argue additional dollars must be pumped into public schools this session to satisfy those justices who earlier this month reiterated that they want to see “immediate, concrete action that it is making real and measurable progress, not simply promises.”

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington said it is “too early” to say if the $200 million figure proposed by the governor will be the amount his caucus pursues.

“If we can make additional investment in education, we should do it,” he said. “We need to make whatever progress we can. I don’t think anyone wants to thumb our noses at the Supreme Court.”

Hill and Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, chairman of the Senate education committee, are among those who think the Supreme Court’s most recent directive to lawmakers doesn’t require any more money be spent, only that a detailed plan for complying is submitted by April 30.

“They want to see exactly what we will do to get there,” Hill said.

Meanwhile, educators are pleased the governor is making the effort.

“It is a positive sign that the Governor and lawmakers are realizing the need to step up faster, as ordered by the Supreme Court regarding K-12 public school funding,” said Nick Brossoit, superintendent of Edmonds School District. “The two areas that the Governor proposes are real needs and progress in these areas will be welcome.”

Inslee targets tax breaks he tried to eliminate last year. He wants to repeal the use tax exemption for most types of extracted fuel and sales tax exemptions on bottled water and janitorial services.

He said he hopes to succeed this year because the Supreme Court is making it clear lawmakers need to do more if they intend to comply by 2018. He also hoped the public will be working hard to convince reticent lawmakers to act.

“The other party has said they don’t want to spend another dime on our children’s education this year,” he said, adding that he considered a “temporary condition. I’m going to remain resolute with the kids on this and hope that we get agreement.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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