By Elliot Suhr, WNPA News Service
OLYMPIA — Governor Inslee proposed closing tax loopholes to generate nearly $200 million in funding for Washington’s public schools during a news conference in Olympia on Jan. 28.
According to Inslee, Republican leaders have said they will resist efforts to add to the education budget this year.
The proposal would give a 1.3 percent salary increase to teachers and staff as well paying for the reforms that the Legislature has already approved. About $130 million would go directly to school districts to update textbooks, technology and curriculum.
“Without money, reforms aren’t real. They’re just hollow promises. Now is the time to turn those promises into action,” Inslee said.
Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said it’s unlikely that any parts of the governor’s proposal will make it past the cutoff calendar in two weeks.
“It sounds good to be able to come up with a source,” said Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle. “But the challenge is, is it politically viable?”
“I know that we’ve looked at closing a total number of tax loopholes that were larger than this amount and it was worse than pulling teeth,” Pettigrew said.
The governor said he was motivated to find new sources of funding in light of the Supreme Court’s recent order that the state needs to move more quickly towards paying the cost of education.
Early last year, the state Supreme Court ruled in McCleary v. Washington that the state was not sufficiently funding basic education under the state Constitution.
During the last legislative session, lawmakers budgeted an extra $1 billion for education. An additional $5 billion is needed in the next biennium to meet the demands of the McCleary decision.
“Right now, we have a near-crisis situation in our classrooms,” said Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle. “I don’t think we’re in a position to not put money towards our McCleary obligations.”
The governor said he would do whatever he could — short of keeping lawmakers in Olympia — to change the minds of lawmakers who oppose an addition to the budget.
“All the good intentions in the world won’t satisfy our clear constitutional imperative to our children,” Inslee said.
The tax loopholes the governor wanted to close would include:
• 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.