There could be a McCleary-related showdown Friday in the Washington Legislature. But Democrats and Republicans disagree over whether Democrats could actually push a bill through the Senate to delay what’s known as the “levy cliff” for K-12 schools.
OLYMPIA — A McCleary-related showdown in the Washington Legislature could come Friday on a bill to delay what’s known as the “levy cliff” for K-12 schools.
Senate Democrats announced Thursday afternoon that since they consider the Senate tied between their party and the Republican coalition, they would attempt to pull HB 1059 to the floor for a vote.
That legislation would delay by a year a scheduled reduction in the money school districts can collect through local property-tax dollars.
This is where the levy cliff and the state Supreme Court’s McCleary education-funding order collide. With no final McCleary plan in the Legislature, school officials are worried about drafting their upcoming budgets with fewer local tax dollars while waiting for the state to increase its contribution to public-school funding, as required by McCleary.
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Currently, school districts can raise up to 28 percent of their levy base through local property-tax money. The levy base is the amount of money districts receive in state and federal funding.
That percentage is supposed to decline to 24 percent in 2018 — unless lawmakers vote to delay such a “levy cliff.”
Earlier this week, the Democratic-controlled House voted to approve HB 1059, with some Republicans joining Democrats.
The expected move by Senate Democrats comes just days after Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, resigned to take a position in the Trump administration. Until Dansel’s replacement is named, Democrats and the Republican coalition each have 24 votes in the Legislature.
That has led Democratic senators to argue that Republicans no longer hold the majority.
GOP legislative leaders have said they are reluctant to delay the levy cliff. Though Republicans have yet to release their own McCleary education-funding plan, they argue that postponing the levy cliff amounts to an admission that lawmakers won’t settle on an overall funding plan this year.
The state has been held in contempt since 2014, with the justices saying not enough progress has been made to address the McCleary decision, which said the state wasn’t paying the cost of basic education as required by the constitution.
In 2015, the court added a $100,000-per-day fine, which remains in effect.
The last big remaining part of McCleary involves figuring out how the state should pay for teacher and school-worker salaries — which in many cases are now funded in part by local property taxes.
As for the Democratic plan for Friday, Republican Floor Leader Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn disagreed that Republicans no longer have a majority. Fain also disagreed that Democrats could even bring HB 1059 to a vote in the Senate under the current rules.
In his regularly scheduled news conference Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee said he has spoken with legislative leaders and urged them to approve a bill to delay the levy cliff.