Editorials

Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Walla Walla Union Bulletin and The Columbian. Editorial content from other publications is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

While the state Legislature did not necessarily get an A-plus for its effort to fully fund basic education as mandated by the state Supreme Court, it nevertheless got the job done.

As a result, Attorney General Bob Ferguson properly filed papers in court asking the high court to drop its contempt order against the state.

“It is time for this case to end,” Ferguson wrote.

Indeed. The Legislature, in a bipartisan agreement, approved a plan to increase spending on K-12 public schools by $7.3 billion over the next four years.

The Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled House OK’d increasing the statewide property tax by 82 cents next year. However, local property tax levies will be capped in 2019.

Some places will see taxes go up but others, especially rural areas, will see overall taxes go down.

Tom Ahearne, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the McCleary lawsuit against the state, told The Associated Press that reducing the amount collected by the local levy system and handing it back through the statewide property tax is not the way to amply fund the schools.

“They’re reshuffling deck chairs,” he said.

Really, how then is the state adding another $7.3 billion in education funding over the next four years if it’s just reshuffling?

The owners of the $1 million-plus homes that are prevalent in the Puget Sound region hardly see this as reshuffling. Those folks are paying more in taxes.

The higher taxes statewide has been done equally. The rate per $1,000 of the assessed value of property is the same in Seattle and Bellingham as it is in Walla Walla and Dayton.

Currently, the statewide tax is too low to fully fund basic education, which is why Walla Walla and nearly every other district in the state had a local levy that filled the hole.

But since the Supreme Court said using a local levy to fund basic programs is not appropriate, the Legislature wisely capped the amount districts could seek from their taxpayers. The money raised from local levies is supposed to cover music, athletics and other similar programs.

“The 2017 legislation will not end debate over educational policy. Nor does it ‘complete’ ongoing adjustments to improve the system — indeed it specifically contemplates and provides for ongoing review to allow policy adjustments and ensure continuing funding adequacy,” the attorney general wrote. “But the 2017 Legislature has done what the Court required in its 2012 decision: it has acted to complete the implementation of full state funding for the state program of basic education, eliminating unconstitutional reliance on local levies to fund basic education.”

The high court ordered the state to equally and fully fund basic education. That has been done.

Parking ideas sensible

Disagreements over downtown parking policies are a good problem for a city to have. If there is no need to discuss parking fees and fines, that means nobody wants to visit downtown and the local economy is suffering.

Fortunately, that is not the case in Vancouver. Downtown businesses are doing well, the city is alluring, and additional growth is imminent. Because of that, officials are considering policies that could increase the price of public parking in the city. Vancouver’s Parking Advisory Committee is planning to recommend that the city council increase fines for parking infractions and leave room for increases to hourly parking fees. Council members are scheduled to review the proposals at a workshop today, and a public hearing is expected on Aug. 21. Among the ideas:

Increase the maximum meter fee from $1.25 an hour to $2.50.

Raise the fine for an expired meter from $15 to $25.

Extend the grace period for paying a parking fine. Currently, the $15 fine doubles after 15 days; the proposal would have the new $25 fine double after 21 days.

While nobody likes increased fees, the recommendations are sensible. Most important, it should be noted that the hourly fee would not automatically grow to $2.50 an hour, but city officials could increase it to that amount in high-demand areas. Other areas could see incremental increases depending upon the supply and demand for local parking. As city Parking Manager Steve Kaspan said, “We are proposing raising the limits of what can be charged in the future since the cap has already been reached.”

That is why changes to the fine for an expired meter also are warranted. As Kaspan noted, somebody parking for the day at a 10-hour meter would pay $12.50; if they didn’t pay and received a ticket, the cost would be $15, which would seem like a worthwhile risk for many a scofflaw. (We should mention, however, that cars can be ticketed more than once during the course of a day).

In attempting to find the sweet spot for parking fees and fines, the overriding goal must be to assist local businesses and generate commerce. Setting fees too high can scare away customers; making them too low can result in cars occupying a parking space for hours while leaving incoming patrons with no place to park, ultimately driving them away from the heart of the city. Consumers and clients should be able to visit downtown with confidence that they will be able to find a reasonable place to park at a reasonable price. It is bad for business if potential customers must walk a half-mile to their destination in pouring rain or 95-degree heat.

Tentatively, city officials hope to use increased parking revenue to facilitate improved parking enforcement. This will be essential for managing the area; people will be more willing to pay a little extra if they have confidence that scofflaws are not getting away with breaking the law.

With the downtown area bustling and with the Vancouver Waterfront project scheduled to begin opening next year, proper parking management will help make the area inviting. That requires a delicate balance, and it is one that can be problematic if handled poorly. Then again, that’s a good problem for a city to have.

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