The opening day party of the 2017 Olympia legislative session was Monday.
It is a long session, 105 days, which includes writing a biennial budget. The ending date for the regular session is April 23.
In the past few sessions the Legislature has gone into special session to get a budget passed.
The single most intractable numbers knot for the lawmakers since 2012 has been the state Supreme Court ruling concerning basic education funding known as Mathew and Stephanie McCleary v. State of Washington.
While McCleary has sucked most of the air from the chambers over the past years, there are many more budget issues the lawmakers must grapple with including transportation, health and government services.
In 2012 the Supreme Court justices affirmed a King County Superior Court declaratory judgment in McCleary v. Washington writing, “The Washington Constitution imposes only one ‘paramount duty’ upon the State: ‘to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste or sex.’”
The Supreme Court justices wrote in October 2016, “This duty not only obligates the State to act in amply providing for public education, but also confers on the children of the state the right to be amply provided with an education.”
Since that first ruling in January 2012 the Legislature, executive branch and Supreme Court have been locked in a yearly budget tug-of-war dance.
Following the 2014 session the Supreme Court found the state to be in contempt for not adequately presenting a plan to fulfill the McCleary order. In 2015 the court followed the contempt ruling with a $100,000 per day fine that was to be placed “in a segregated account for the benefit of basic education.”
In October 2016 the Supreme Court wrote of the contempt ruling and sanctions, “The State acknowledges that since the issuance of the order, the legislature has neither established a segregated account for the benefit of education nor appropriated any funds to be paid into such an account in accordance with the order. The State urges that sufficient reserve state funds exist to cover the sanctions that have accumulated to date…. and it represents that the Office of Financial Management is computing the accumulated amount on a daily basis and reporting weekly to the legislature and the state treasurer. But keeping an accounting of the sanctions as they accumulate does not comply with the court’s order to pay the sanction daily into an established account for the benefit of basic education.”
After the 2012 McCleary ruling, the Legislature set a timeline to be in compliance with the order by 2018. This two-year budget would be the one to show the necessary decisions for funding basic education.
Rep. Steve Bergquist, R, 11th District and a member of the Appropriations and Education Committee said in an email, “As a teacher, and as a father of two young children, I understand that our community and especially our students expect us to fully fund basic education. I hope we can break through our partisan gridlock and finally fulfill that constitutional promise.”
Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed operating budget has $23.4 billion allotted for public funding, 50 percent of the $46.5 billion state budget.
Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D, 11th District, serves on Senate Rules and Ways and Means, the senate budget committee. A release from Hasegawa’s office noted all bills must travel through one or both committees.
“This session is going to be significant on many fronts, including education equity and funding and addressing income inequality through tax reform,” Hasegawa said in the release. “The committees I serve on are central to these issues and I will continue to give the 11th district a voice where it counts in state government.”
Tana Senn, D, 41st District said, “Working to pass a solution to fully fund education is the top priority this session. I look forward to working closely on this given the nexus of my committee assignments on the Education, Appropriations and Early Learning Human Services Committees,”
Sen. Joe Fain, R, 47th District said, “The 2017 Legislature will be defined by our ability to improve our existing education funding system that is highly inequitable for students, teachers and taxpayers. The more than 1 million students attending our state’s public schools deserve a high-quality education, but too often student success is more closely tied to a child’s ZIP code than anything else. As we continue to invest more in our schools we must also ensure that all students have the same access and opportunities to learn.” Fain is vice chair of the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee and the Senate majority floor leader.
In the first blush of discussions one of the issues that has arisen in how the local levy dollars will be handled.
Sen. Mark Mullet, D, 5th District, said a critical issue to him regarding the McCleary negotiations is allowing the school districts to keep local levy dollars in the districts.
“We can’t run schools without local levies,” Mullet said. “If there is one thing we have learned is people hate taxes. The only time they will support them is if (the taxes) are local.”
Mullet said if people can see how their taxes are used in the districts they will support local levies rather than a system where the state would collect and allot the taxes to all the districts in the state. OTHER ISSUES
After education, there are other issues that dominate a great deal of the clock in Olympia during any session.
Transportation issues in the Renton area and around the Puget Sound are high on the Legislature’s list as are health and government services
Senn said, “I intend to continue to champion other legislation that benefits the families of Washington, such as equal pay for women, children’s mental health and gun safety.”
Fain said with the narrow margins in both chambers it will take bipartisan work to get legislation to the governor’s desk.