Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The (Kennewick) Tri-City Herald and Yakima Herald-Republic. 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.
The 2017 legislative cram session that finally produced a state plan to amply fund public education unfortunately will have to continue next year.
The state Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that while the Legislature has made progress, it still has a ways to go before it has fulfilled its constitutional duty in the ongoing McCleary saga.
That means lawmakers will have to push through significant budget changes in next year’s “short” 60-day session, and that likely won’t be easy.
Historically, the even-numbered session years are supposed to be used for relatively minor legislative tweaks to the state budget. That won’t be the case this time around.
In order to get the job done on time, lawmakers will have to buckle down right after welcoming ceremonies and work fast to meet the financing needs dictated by the new school financing plan.
Legislators went in to triple overtime earlier this year trying to hammer out a new system to pay for K-12 education. The hope was that, at last, their proposal would be good enough to meet the court mandate set for them back in 2012.
Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way.
The court didn’t take issue with the proposed financing model as much as with the time frame.
They didn’t like the state’s plan to wait until September 2019 to fully fund teacher salaries when the deadline is supposed to be the year before.
Ultimately, the justices decided they will continue to retain jurisdiction over the case, and they expect a state progress report by April 9.
They mean it.
The court wrote that if the Legislature misses its spring deadline, it “will immediately address the need to impose additional remedial measures.”
We can’t blame them for the tough stance. The Legislature has had plenty of time to address this issue, and continually kicked it to the following year until it ran out of legislative sessions.
For too long, the state has failed in its “paramount” duty to fully fund K-12 education. To make up for that failure, communities that could afford it used local tax money from school levies to bridge the difference.
But this system allowed students in poorer communities to go without resources that students in other, more affluent areas were able to receive.
To fix that disparity, legislators came up with a plan that shifts reliance on local school levies to the state.
This means an increase in state property taxes, but caps local property tax levies beginning in 2019. In some school districts the result will be an increase in local taxes. In others — like the Tri-Cities — it will be lower.
The justices said the school funding plan eventually would achieve compliance, but it is not there yet and that they “cannot accept part compliance as full compliance.”
Another hurdle for lawmakers will be the concerns raised from school officials throughout the state over the details in the school funding proposal.
Now that they have had time to study it, many are concerned about which programs are included in basic education and covered by the state, and which ones must be funded with local money.
For instance, it appears special education falls outside the bounds of state funding, which is surprising. If that is the case, lawmakers need to figure out a way to fix that.
It’s a sure bet there will be other concerns raised as lawmakers get closer to finalizing this significantly new way to fund education in our state.
We hope lawmakers enjoy their upcoming holiday and that they get some rest.
Once the 2018 session starts, they will have to work hard from the get-go if they are going to meet the latest court-ordered McCleary deadline.
Judge made right call on Seattle tax
All along, a sense of statutory manipulation has driven the city of Seattle’s effort to impose an income tax on city residents. The Seattle City Council passed it unanimously in July, and then-Mayor Ed Murray signed it into law, knowing full well that past state Supreme Courts have found that an income tax violates the state constitution. Proponents knew the tax would draw a court challenge, but their hope was that sympathetic judges would employ a supple reading of the law and uphold their action.
And the day before Thanksgiving, in what is likely to be the first round of legal wrangling, the ploy gained neither judicial sympathy nor suppleness — as well it shouldn’t.
King County Superior Court judge John R. Ruhl on Wednesday ruled against Seattle’s imposition of a 2.25 percent tax on total income above $250,000 for individuals and above $500,000 for married couples filing together.
For more than 80 years now, the state Supreme Court has ruled that income is property, and that state law prohibits taxes on net income. On top of that, a local government must have express authorization from the Legislature to impose any type of tax — the Legislature has not done so for an income tax. The court also has held that a graduated income tax runs afoul of state law that property must be taxed uniformly.So it was no surprise when Judge Ruhl cited legal precedents last week in deeming the tax to be illegal. The city had argued semantics in saying that it imposed an excise tax that would apply to “total income” — Ruhl essentially said that whatever it was called, it is an income tax. The judge also ruled that the city did not have the authority to approve the tax. He did not rule on whether the Seattle effort violates state law on uniform taxation.
Income tax supporters argue that the state’s reliance on sales and property taxes makes Washington’s among the most regressive in the country — that an undue tax burden falls on lower-income residents. They have a number of studies that support their view, but the state has a process already in place to address that issue.
The process is a constitutional amendment, which requires approval by both the Legislature and the electorate. Income tax supporters are frustrated because the amendment route has been tried before for a graduated income tax — five times, most recently in 1973 — and each time the voters have voted it down. The voters also have rejected four income tax ballot initiatives — by a near 2-1 ratio in 2010, the most recent vote. If the process doesn’t work for them, then supporters need to alter the specifics of their policy or the message — or to accept that a landslide majority of state voters simply don’t want an income tax.
Meanwhile, Seattle probably will continue its end run through the courts. Judge Ruhl’s ruling likely will be appealed, and it likely will land in the state Supreme Court, where it should be an easy legal call for the nine justices to rule the way Judge Ruhl did.