Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Olympian and Walla Walla Union Bulletin. 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.
Washington legislators passed historic, needed changes to our state’s K-12 school funding system in down-to-the-wire votes Friday that avoided a government shutdown.
The bipartisan budget, signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee, promises $7.3 billion of new state money for public schools over four years. Much of that replaces local property tax levies at the center of a state Supreme Court finding that the funding system was unconstitutional.
The new K-12 plan requires the state to eventually pick up all costs for basic education including school salaries. Meanwhile, local property-tax levies will be capped at lower levels; use of levies is supposed to be limited to enrichment activities. Also, a new statewide health-insurance system for school employees will be created like the PEBB system for state workers.
In broad strokes, these are welcome achievements.
But many details — including impacts on individual school districts — are still unclear.
Did legislators do enough?
Justices on the state Supreme Court get the last word on whether this approach fixes the school-funding system that the court found unconstitutional twice since 1977.
Most recently the court found in 2012 (in the McCleary case) that the state was failing to pay its share of basic education costs and that excessive local levies were subsidizing those costs.
Historically voters in richer districts were more able to subsidize salaries and other basic education costs than poorer districts. In some districts over 30 percent of revenue was coming from local property taxes.
If the new system is judged adequate, the court can finally lift a contempt order it had issued against the Legislature for previously failing to meet its school funding obligations.
If the K-12 funding plan fails to pass legal muster, lawmakers will have suffered an historic failure to meet their own schedule for full funding over a six-year time frame. Justices could take more drastic actions.
Budget writers think their work is good enough. Unfortunately they have more to do — this year and longer term.
They still must pass a capital budget for construction projects in every corner of the state and solve other thorny policy problems.
Longer term, they need to broaden the state’s tax base and make the tax code less punitive for those at the lower end of the economic ladder.
Lawmakers closed a few tax loopholes and expanded one for manufacturers, but mainly they shifted the property tax burden — leading to net reductions in many rural areas and higher burdens in property-rich urban areas like Seattle.
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Applause is due, but lawmakers owe the state an encore.
FDA’s effort to fight price gouging is welcome
The Food and Drug Administration, under new Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, is finally doing its job. The federal agency is looking out for U.S. consumers.
The FDA announced last week that it is taking steps to boost the number of generic prescription drugs on the market in an effort to make medicines more affordable and to prevent price gouging.
Gottlieb, who is a physician, said he will make pricing oversight a priority. He said the agency can help by increasing market competition. While the FDA reviews and approves medications, it doesn’t have the power to regulate prices.
More than a year ago, the FDA was not particularly interested in taking on Big Pharma. Its leaders at the time were queasy about taking a stand that has not been specifically authorized by Congress.
We were outraged by the lack of gumption. The agency should have taken a stand in the important matter of drug pricing just as other federal agencies acted aggressively to protect consumers.
The stunningly high cost of life-savings drugs in America is immoral.
The Associated Press reported that recent high-profile cases have shown how lack of competition and medicine shortages allowed several drug companies to drastically increase prices for generics and some older brand-name products such as EpiPen emergency allergy injectors.
“No patient should be priced out of the medicines they need, and as an agency dedicated to promoting public health, we must do our part to help patients get access to the treatments they require,” Gottlieb said in a statement.
The FDA now says it will now give priority reviews to new generic drugs until there are at least three on the market. That’s the level at which prices tend to drop sharply, up to 85 percent off the brand-name price, AP reported.
The agency also published its first list of brand-name drugs that no longer have a patent’s protection but don’t yet have generic competition, a strategy to entice generic drugmakers to develop lower-cost copycat drugs.
This is a sound approach and needs to be done.
A year ago, according to a drug industry trade group, at least 40 drugs worth an estimated $5.4 billion were sheltered from competition by distribution hurdles.
The FDA was aware of the misuse, but opted to remain on the sidelines.
It’s great to see the FDA leadership has now decided to take a stand to stop drug companies from stifling competition and putting lives at risk for obscene profit.