Washington lawmakers are still wrestling with the state Supreme Court’s K-12 school-funding order, known as the McCleary decision, as well as a new state budget.
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee has called lawmakers back for a second special session to continue work on court-mandated K-12 education funding and a new state budget.
In a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Inslee also showed signs of compromise with Senate Republicans in the effort to resolve the expensive and politically complicated task of funding Washington’s school system.
In 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled in its McCleary decision that Washington was violating its constitution by underfunding the education system and relying too much on local taxes to pay for schools.
In his remarks, the governor effectively took a proposed tax on capital gains — favored by himself and House Democrats — off the table.
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Inslee, meanwhile, emphasized once again his opposition to the Republican education plan, which would raise property taxes in property-rich places like Seattle and Bellevue to help pay for education in property-poor districts elsewhere.
Neither the Republican property-tax plan nor a capital-gains tax “will have the support necessary to pass in both chambers as-is,” Inslee said. “So we need legislators to talk about things that could have adequate support and be part of the foundations for the education of our children.”
Inslee suggested that lawmakers focus on a pair of ideas introduced earlier this year by Democratic lawmakers to raise more money for schools.
One proposal would have Washington state collect sales tax from purchases made through the internet.
The other would restructure the state’s real estate excise tax. Under that plan, buyers of pricey homes would pay more than the current excise tax rate, while buyers of less expensive homes would pay a rate lower than the current one.
Inslee also said, with certain conditions, that he would be open to a “state property-tax adjustment” as part of a final deal.
The regular, 105-day legislative session ended in late April, with lawmakers deadlocked over how to implement and pay for a K-12 school funding plan that would satisfy the McCleary decision.
The governor called the first 30-day special session on April 21 to continue the work.
Lawmakers have been trading offers in search of an agreement, but “the late movement has produced too little, and it has moved too slowly,” he said.
“Legislators need to start making the hard decisions necessary to amply fund our schools,” the governor said. He said he plans to call Republican and Democratic budget writers into his office in the upcoming days.
Lawmakers also must draft a two-year state operating budget, which funds education, parks, social services and the prison system, among other programs.
On the surface, little happened in Olympia during the first special session.
The Senate and the House rarely worked on the floor and few committee meetings were held. Many lawmakers spent their time back in their districts.
But a group of eight legislators — four Democrats and four Republicans — continued to grind away in closed-door meetings to find a compromise on a McCleary funding plan.
Republican Floor Leader Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn Tuesday morning described the progress among those legislators as “quite productive.”
“I am optimistic, based on the progress that I am hearing from those education negotiations, that we’re going to get somewhere,” Fain said.
Even with a deal on education funding, lawmakers must also agree to a state operating budget.
In recent budget-writing years, only the threat of a July 1 government shutdown has forced legislators to finish their work. Lawmakers haven’t written a new budget without a special session since 2009.
Inslee said neither a government shutdown nor some kind of temporary budget to keep agencies running while negotiations continue into summer are acceptable.
“They have an obligation to get this done now,” Inslee said. “There is no excuse for not getting this done the next 30 days.”
Such measures won’t be needed, Fain said.
“Despite the track record of taking way too long to get this job done,” he said, “the track record is also that the job always gets done.”