State budget forecasters couldn’t get the votes needed to approve Washington’s future budget outlook. The reason? A disagreement over court-ordered K-12 education funding.
OLYMPIA — In what may be a first, the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council couldn’t get the votes Wednesday to approve Washington’s budget-forecast outlook.
The reason? A political divide on whether to formally acknowledge the billions of dollars that lawmakers expect they’ll have to come up with to comply with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. That ruling says K-12 education is not being fully funded as required under the state constitution.
The court is holding the state in contempt for not making enough progress on a full funding plan to comply with McCleary.
Lawmakers have put billions of dollars into the public education system in recent years to try to address the issue. But they’ve remained stuck on the complicated and politically sensitive task of reforming how state and local property taxes are used to pay teacher salaries.
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State Treasurer James McIntire, a Democratic member of the revenue-forecast council, wanted the expected McCleary costs reflected in the budget outlook — a four-year forecast of how much money the state is expected to collect and spend.
He pointed to data showing the levy changes would cost the state about $3.5 billion.
McIntire’s amendment to insert that language failed after two Republicans voted against it.
Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond and chief GOP budget writer, said he was unwilling to put a number on an elusive solution to correct the levy system.
There’s still a range on how much that could cost, Hill said, and he worried the court might use an official number in a future ruling.
“I worry about putting any number in there,” said Hill. “Only because these numbers have been picked up, bandied about, and before you know it, they become a mandate.”
After the meeting, said McIntire, who is retiring this year, “Frankly, we know pretty well what the problem is, we know pretty well what the challenges are. I think that people just don’t want to have to say it in an election year.”
The state Attorney General’s Office late Wednesday afternoon filed its brief to the court based on a McCleary progress report drafted by legislators.
One lawmaker, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, last week described the report as reflecting “what we didn’t do” in this year’s legislative session to solve the funding problem.
The Attorney General’s brief asked the court to lift its contempt order and $100,000-per-day fine against the state. It argued that the levy reform plan-for-a-plan passed by lawmakers this year should satisfy the court’s concerns.
“The Legislature has demonstrated over the last four years that it will meet the deadlines it sets for itself,” according to the brief.
After reviewing the state’s progress report, the court could lift its contempt order, hand down further sanctions or take some other action.