Remember that task force that’s supposed to figure out how to pay for the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary funding order? They may not be able to agree on a price tag.
OLYMPIA — Democratic and Republican state lawmakers might not agree on a price tag for a court-ordered K-12 school-funding solution by January’s legislative session, a top Republican state senator said Wednesday.
For months, Washington state lawmakers have waited for a consultant report to help define how much it would cost to fully fund teacher and school-worker salaries. Some of those costs right now are paid by local school-district property-tax dollars.
Fixing that imbalance is the last, big remaining piece of the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision.
The bipartisan Education Funding Task Force got that report Tuesday, and has been expected to figure out a cost estimate and recommend a solution before the legislative session.
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Fast-forward to Wednesday: Sen. John Braun, of Centralia, a task-force member and Republican budget writer, said there might not be agreement on a cost estimate by then.
“I’m an optimist, but I think that will be tough,” Braun said after a meeting of the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, of which he’s a member. “There will be a legitimate effort by both sides to try to reach a consensus.”
“Whether we get there or not,” he added, “I can’t say.”
Braun made the remarks after Republicans in that meeting, once again, argued against including an estimate for funding McCleary in the state’s budget outlook. Braun argued that a fix could cost less than the projection of $3.5 billion every two years.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s office still presumes a solution will cost around $3.5 billion for a two-year budget cycle, according to David Schumacher, director of the state Office of Financial Management. It’s a big number for a state operating budget that now stands at about $38 billion.
The governor plans on releasing his proposed 2017-19 operating budget — including a McCleary fix — in December.
“We’re not going to wait for the task force,” Schumacher said.
Braun’s remarks could signal the beginning of another round of bruising, drawn-out negotiations over taxes, spending and education policy.
With Democrats controlling the House and Republicans holding the Senate, recent budget-crafting sessions have gone into overtime — and raised the possibility of a state-government shutdown.
Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, called Braun’s remarks “unfortunate.”
“If the leadership of the Republican majority wants to find a consensus, we will,” said Rolfes, who also is a member of the Education Funding Task Force. “And if they want to be resistant to finding a consensus before January … I guess that’s a bad sign.”
Lawmakers and Inslee in recent years put billions of dollars into McCleary for programs like all-day of kindergarten, lower class sizes, and to cover the costs of supplies and school operations.