Friday, December 21, 2012
Gov. Chris Gregoire’s two-year state budget proposal, which she released Tuesday, is merely an example of how an extra $1 billion could be raised and spent on education. The document will not be the state budget that’s finally adopted. Nor will all — or even most — of the tax increases proposed be adopted.
The governor’s budget is a starting point for talks (or, perhaps, battles) in the state House and Senate.
Gregoire leaves office in mid-January and will be replaced by fellow Democrat Jay Inslee. Gregoire is no longer restrained by politics and she is bluntly calling it like she sees it.
When the governor was in Walla Walla this fall, she talked about writing her last budget. She made it clear she did not believe it was possible to spend significantly more on education without tax increases.
The state must make a substantial down payment on increased school funding in an effort to make progress in complying with the state Supreme Court’s order to fully fund basic education. On Thursday, the high court ruled the Legislature isn’t making enough progress toward finding more money for K-12 education and must have some progress to report after lawmakers conclude their 2013 session.
A possible problem in Gregoire’s plan is that Inslee and Rob McKenna, the Republican candidate for governor, both said they will not raise taxes if elected.
So how is this going to work?
Gregoire said generating the tax revenue doesn’t necessarily have to break Inslee’s no-tax stand — “He never said he wouldn’t do taxes for transportation. He ... never said he wouldn’t continue current taxes.”
The governor’s plan calls for wholesale taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel to be earmarked for education transportation. In addition, she wants to extend a beer-tax surcharge and a business-and-occupation tax surcharge on certain services that are set to expire next summer.
This would raise an extra $1 billion, which would be extra money used for schools, primarily in the lower grades, said Stan Marshburn, Gregoire’s budget director.
In an interview with the Union-Bulletin on Wednesday, Marshburn said Inslee was not consulted about the budget so it’s not known how much of Gregoire’s plan he will embrace. But, Marshburn said, the governor took care not to put her successor in a difficult situation while still writing a balanced budget that is viable.
Inslee, the Democrat-controlled House and the hybrid-controlled Senate will, of course, have plenty of ideas of their own on how to find savings, generate revenue and better fund education.
But the new governor and lawmakers would be wise to give serious thought to Gregoire’s budget priorities, revenue proposals and $1 billion education improvement plans. Gregoire has some solid ideas.