OLYMPIA — House Democrats on Wednesday proposed closing tax breaks worth $100 million to help increase spending for education and pay for teacher pay increases.
The caucus also proposed using lottery proceeds to put $700 million into the construction of new classrooms.
Democrats say the additional spending is needed to help satisfy a 2012 state Supreme Court mandate, known as the McCleary ruling, to increase funding for education. Before the session began, the court told lawmakers to move faster.
Democrats say the Legislature must act.
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“At the end of the day we have no choice but to acknowledge that we live in a post-McCleary era,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle.
However, the House proposal to fund teacher-pay increases by closing tax breaks seems unlikely to go far in the Republican-led Senate, which maintains that’s a debate for the 2015 session.
“I’ve said on numerous occasions that this isn’t the year to do it,” Senate Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said. “That’s a big discussion.”
Hill noted there are only two weeks left in the session, set to end March 13.
Overall, the operating budget proposed by Democrats would increase state spending by more than $240 million, including an additional $60 million to pay for school supplies and operating costs, $51 million for teacher cost-of-living increases and $18 million for increases in community mental-health funding.
They would pay for the additional spending, in part, by closing four tax breaks, including a sales-tax exemption for bottled water and a sales-tax exemption for nonresidents that is aimed at helping retailers stay competitive with states that don’t have a sales tax.
The Senate earlier this week released a much smaller budget that would increase state spending by roughly $96 million. The two chambers now must work out a compromise with the governor.
This year’s budget is supposed to be a supplemental plan that generally takes care of small changes in spending. The Legislature last year approved a $33.6 billion, two-year state budget.
In addition to the operating budget, House Democrats released a separate construction budget that would spend $700 million on new classrooms for kindergarten through third grade.
The plan, backed by House Capital Budget Chairman Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, and Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, Mason County, would issue bonds to pay for the construction. The bonds would be paid off over time using $50 million in annual state lottery revenue.
Democrats say that fully meeting the Supreme Court mandate for additional education funding will mean hiring more teachers to reduce the numbers of students in classrooms.
“The reality is you have to have those classrooms in place before those teachers show up,” Dunshee said. “That’s going to take some time.”
It’s not clear how the plan would fare in the Senate, if it passes the House. Hill said he had not seen the proposal.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or email@example.com