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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

End of Washington’s fiscal year looms as lawmakers disclose details of budget deal

While those watch­ing out for the release of the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture’s final state bud­get were sore­ly dis­ap­point­ed this after­noon, details were bub­bling out about the Leg­is­la­ture’s plans to address McCleary. Leg­isla­tive staff, how­ev­er, are still scram­bling to actu­al­ly pro­duce a bud­get that nego­tia­tors have agreed to in order avoid a state gov­ern­ment shut­down. Then it must be vot­ed on.

Since the 2012 McCleary deci­sion came out, law­mak­ers have been under court orders to amply bol­ster fund­ing for Wash­ing­ton’s pub­lic schools. But they have been unable to agree on how to get there, in large part because Repub­li­cans have stub­born­ly clung to their “no new tax­es” mantra. This has result­ed in the Court hold­ing the Leg­is­la­ture in con­tempt for neglect­ing its responsibilities.

As in past long ses­sions, a fail­ure to even begin nego­ti­a­tions in earnest has left Wash­ing­ton cit­i­zens wait­ing over mul­ti­ple extend­ed ses­sions to eval­u­ate any deci­sions com­ing from the Legislature.

In impromp­tu meet­ings with reporters on Thurs­day, law­mak­ers released state­ments con­firm­ing they’ve agreed to a poten­tial state prop­er­ty tax increase of rough­ly 81 cents per $1,000 of assessed val­ue. Pub­lic teach­ers can expect to see aver­age salary increas­es of approx­i­mate­ly $10,000, while pub­lic school admin­is­tra­tors would be receiv­ing over $30,000 of aver­age salary increas­es by 2021.

These increas­es would include adjust­ments for salaries giv­en the res­i­den­tial val­ues in a school dis­trict exceed the nation­al aver­age. Accord­ing­ly, begin­ning in 2020, salary for all school staff would adjust based on infla­tion rates.

There is also a $644.2 mil­lion boost to state appro­pri­a­tions on school pro­grams for gift­ed stu­dents, stu­dents who fall under the pover­ty line, and stu­dents who fall behind cur­rent aca­d­e­m­ic standards.

School dis­tricts and unions rep­re­sent­ing teach­ers won’t have much time to ana­lyze the impacts of this bud­get con­sid­er­ing a final vote is sched­uled to take place in each house by mid­night tomor­row night (Fri­day, June 30th).

Seat­tle Pub­lic Schools (SPS) released a pub­lic state­ment stat­ing, “It will be days [from when the bud­get is offi­cial­ly released] before we know if the new plans will ful­ly sup­port the edu­ca­tion­al needs of SPS students.”

Yet no pub­lic hear­ings will be held on the offi­cial bud­get, or its McCleary fund­ing com­po­nent, which is expect­ed to be released Fri­day around 8 AM.

This lack of pub­lic input has inten­si­fied con­cerns of both leg­isla­tive effi­cien­cy and fis­cal trans­paren­cy.

Reporters in Olympia have attempt­ed to address this issue with lawmakers.

“The deci­sions are made,” said State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive June Robin­son, D‑Everett, one of the bud­get nego­tia­tors. “What we’re wait­ing for now is staff to do all the work that needs to be done to bal­ance everything.”

Robin­son said she doesn’t antic­i­pate a pub­lic hear­ing on the bud­get before it gets a floor vote. But peo­ple have had months to vet the ideas that went into the deal, she added, since it’s a com­bi­na­tion of the Repub­li­can and Demo­c­ra­t­ic plans passed ear­li­er this year by the Sen­ate and House, respectively.

“I feel like we were able to use pub­lic input to devel­op the final com­pro­mise bud­get,” she said. “I under­stand that oth­er peo­ple might not feel that way.”

Law­mak­ers say their num­ber one pri­or­i­ty is to avoid a state gov­ern­ment shut­down, which would be trig­gered Sat­ur­day in the absence of a new state oper­at­ing budget.

Had a deal been nego­ti­at­ed ear­li­er, how­ev­er, there would have been plen­ty of time for crit­i­cal scruti­ny and pub­lic com­ment. The Leg­is­la­ture is now in its third spe­cial ses­sion. It blew through two peri­ods of over­time with­out accom­plish­ing much of any­thing. And only now, with the fis­cal year about to end, has a deal been reached. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, many details still aren’t avail­able and won’t be until tomorrow.

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