Commentary: GOP lawmakers using Trump tactics on state budget

By John McCoy

For the fourth time in the last five years, the Legislature is taking more time to complete its work.

It’s disappointing, but for close observers of state government, this year’s budget stalemate is not much of a surprise.

Control of Olympia is almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, revealing stark differences in core values.

What has been surprising? The Trump effect.

Republicans, who control the Senate by a slim one-vote margin, have embraced many of the president’s policy ideas and many of his tactics. Heck, one Republican senator from Whatcom County has even been working for the new president, splitting time between Olympia and Washington, D.C.

Like Trump at the federal level, my GOP colleagues have been insisting on a state budget that includes cuts to popular programs including women’s health care, homeless assistance, toxic cleanup programs and more.

Our biggest divide is over K-12 education, which affects 1.1 million students and their families in our state. Lawmakers are under a Supreme Court order to amply fund our schools, and the deadline is up.

On this issue, Senate Republicans have employed another favorite Trump tool: alternative facts.

They repeatedly claim that their plan to fund education will not result in a tax increase, even though their plan would dramatically raise taxes for thousands of Washingtonians. Data from nonpartisan legislative staff shows that their plan essentially slashes services to vulnerable Washingtonians and creates a $5.6 billion statewide property tax — the biggest in state history — in order to shift funding to education and reduce taxes on corporations.

In addition to insufficient funding, the state GOP has also taken a cue from Trump’s pick to lead our nation’s schools, billionaire Betsy DeVos.

Senate Republicans want to alter the way we give money to schools, replacing a time-tested evidenced-based system with a scheme that resembles block grants. This policy change would provide an easy onramp to a school voucher system and eventually a privatization of public schools in our state.

Meanwhile, we’ve heard from teachers who are upset with GOP changes that would lower professional standards. Republicans would cut stipends for our national board-certified teachers — some of the very best educators in our classrooms. In fact, their plan would allow just about anybody to teach our kids by stripping certification requirements. That’s hardly the world-class education we all want for our kids.

Everett teacher Kailani Tibayan summed up many of the concerns with the proposal when she testified on the bill in Olympia in February. “I was greatly disappointed and offended that teacher certification was of no importance,” she said. “Teachers like myself go above and beyond to make sure we are the best we can be for our students.”

Democrats in Olympia have a plan that empowers exceptional teachers like Kailani, instead of devaluing their important work. The plan also raises the kind of revenue that will increase outcomes for our students — and the tax burden would not fall on middle-class households or those who are barely hanging on.

We are ready to sit down at the table, find compromise and finish our work.

The welfare of school children, vulnerable Washingtonians and middle-class households are at stake and I hope my Republicans colleagues are ready to come together as well for the common good.

State Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip represents communities in Tulalip, Marysville and Everett.

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