Governor Jay Inslee said he's heard the excuses: It's an election year. It's too hard to raise taxes. It can wait until next session. The governor said it's time for lawmakers to fulfill their promise to kids and pay for improvements to education.
The State Supreme Court recently told elected leaders that the state must move faster toward fulfilling its paramount constitutional duty. The high court has set a deadline of 2018.
The Governor would end certain tax breaks to raise $200 million this session.
"On top of the nearly $1 billion we put in schools last year, this proposal makes another down payment on our commitment to fully fund basic education," Inslee told reporters Tuesday.
Inslee said he wants to close or ammend seven tax breaks, all proposals he made last year. Among the exemptions he would close:
A sales tax exemption for trade-ins valued at more than $10,000.
A public utility tax deduction for interstate transportation.
A tax exemption on extracted fuel.
A refund of sales tax to nonresidents.
A sales tax exemption for bottled water.
A sales tax exemption for janitorial services.
A special business tax rate for resellers of prescription drugs.
The state, said Inslee, allows hundreds of exemptions. Some, he concedes, have value.
"Others are simply not as high a priority to the people of the state of Washington as providing adequate funding for our schools, our paramount duty," said Inslee.
Inslee would spend some of the money on a 1.3 percent pay hike for teachers and other school staff. The rest, he'd spend in the classroom on textbooks, computers and curriculum updates.
"I'm proposing an increase of $119 per student, which means the state will invest $130 million more directly to school districts in the 2014-15 school year," he explained.
Redmond's Andy Hill, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee told the AP that Republicans would look at the governor's proposal but noted that tax exemptions are difficult to close, "especially in a short session." It's also an election year.
"I believe very deeply, and I've been through 14-15 election cycles, that it is a winning issue for a candidate to face his public and say: 'I stood up for funding for our schools and our kids,'" Inslee argued.
State Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn recently proposed increases in the sales tax and property tax to fund basic education.
This is what needs to happen, said Dorn "If you want a 21st century quality education system and if you want to follow the constitution of the state."
Representative Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, has introduced a bill to mandate smaller class sizes.
"We can't wait any longer, the time is now to find the funding to reduce class sizes throughout our public schools."
Sen. Hill said it takes time to find consensus on funding an education shortfall, estimated at $5 billion. Inslee said lawmakers cannot kick the can down the road this session and still meet the high court's 2018 deadline.
"In my talks with them, I have told them exactly what I've told you in the public, that if we don't take this step this year, we will be falling behind the pace we need to maintain to get to that $5 billion mark," emphasized Inslee.