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Legislature faces contempt of court if not enough progress on education funding

The court has given lawmakers until April 30 to come up with a plan to find more than a billion more dollars to fund basic education. (AP Photo/File)

Remember the dread you had when the teacher told you to go to the principal's office, to explain why you didn't do what you were supposed to?

That's the situation facing the legislature as it prepares to tell the State Supreme Court why it failed to make any real significant progress on funding education last session.

The court has given lawmakers until April 30 to come up with a plan to find more than a billion more dollars to fund basic education.

There is no plan, but lawmakers are going to tell the court they're making progress, and they're hoping that will be enough to satisfy the justices.

Legislative leaders met this week to decide the best way to explain to the court what they've been up to.

Republican Senator Bruce Dammeier says lawmakers have passed some legislation that should please the court, but there hasn't been enough movement on how to find the billion dollars in the budget.

"The challenge of really passing the legislation, of coming to grips with what the legislature really needs to do, and how we need to do it, and going forward and this is an area where there are some pretty significant philosophical differences," says Dammeier.

He says Republicans want to fund education first and then talk taxes for other government programs and says Democrats simply want to raise taxes.

He explains, "So there is a big philosophical difference there: One is whether you use kids as the excuse to raise taxes or whether you fund them as a matter of priority and then wrestle with whether increased taxes are necessary for other parts of government."

Democratic Senator Christine Rolfes says this argument is simply an excuse to do nothing.

"The Republican mantra is 'No new taxes.' So they have a very clear platform that some of them are going to have to back down on in order for us to get something done."

Rolfes says differences aside, lawmakers agree on one thing, "The biggest sticking point really is nobody likes the price tag of McCleary. It's a very difficult conversation to have and the price tag is so high that the only way to reach it is with taxes and reducing government spending on other programs that people care about and raising taxes somehow. And both of those are really, really hard conversations to have."

Despite the lack of progress, Rolfes believes they can find common ground and satisfy the court.

"I think there are places where we can agree and agree to work forward on things," she says.

The big question now is what will the Washington State Supreme Court do at the end of the month when it gets a letter saying, "We're trying our best to do something" when it was expecting a plan of action.

The court has threatened lawmakers with contempt of court if they fail to come up with a plan.


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