Differing messages, differing approaches to openness from the Attorney General’s Office appear on the same day about the McCleary decision.
OLYMPIA — Wednesday brought an interesting example of how public officials and their handlers can have different opinions over when to be open with the public.
This week’s case study comes from the office of state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, which is tasked with representing Washington before the state Supreme Court in the education-funding order known as the McCleary decision.
Last fall, the court held the state in contempt for not doing enough toward fully funding education by the court’s 2018 deadline. If lawmakers didn’t develop a funding plan by the end of the 2015 legislative session, the court said, it might act quickly to punish lawmakers.
The session is scheduled to end Sunday; lawmakers have agreed on neither an operating budget that provides more school funding, nor a plan to reform the local property-tax-levy system now used to pay for education.
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In an editorial-board meeting Wednesday with The Olympian, Ferguson was frank about the next step for the Attorney General’s Office.
“Regardless of whether the Legislature ends its regular session Friday or Sunday, that means the report to the court is due Monday”, Ferguson said, according to a news account of the session. The report is intended to detail “the state’s efforts to comply with the court’s most recent order,” Ferguson said in the story.
Earlier this week, The Seattle Times asked the Attorney General’s Office about any upcoming response to the court. In an email Wednesday the office gave a statement different from Ferguson’s — one that doesn’t say much at all.
“Throughout the McCleary litigation, we have worked closely with our clients in the legislative and executive branches of government,” wrote Peter Lavallee, communications director for the office. “We continue to advise them on the appropriate course of action, as adjournment of the regular legislative session approaches.”
As to why he didn’t mention sending a report to the court, Lavallee said in a phone message to The Seattle Times that there remained a “mathematical, theoretical possibility” that the Legislature could reach a budget agreement before Sunday’s end of session. Lawmakers, however, have acknowledged they’re going into a special session.
Lavallee’s statement doesn’t just contrast to Ferguson’s openness on the subject of McCleary. While they won’t reveal the details of private talks over budget or levy-reform negotiations, lawmakers in both parties have consistently acknowledged the existence and extent of talks on politically sensitive subjects like levy reform.