The House of Representatives has completed its annual “Summary of Legislation” document, which is a helpful reference for a number of reasons. First, it provides a fairly concise explanation of each bill that passed the legislature. Second, it provides a helpful overview of the final budget, which itself is a piece of legislation.
The summary of K-12 legislation starts on page 25 of the document. The overview of the budget is on page 83 of the document.
Occasionally I like to point out budget issues that I think rise to a level of policy significance in terms of the health of the budget generally and our ability to respond to McCleary specifically. These issues are taking on more prominence as the Legislature’s “Article IX committee” begins to draft the report it intends to send to the Supreme Court, detailing its progress and outlining plans for additional steps for basic education implementation. That committee met Wednesday, in Olympia.
Below is a graph of the “budget solution” – which refers to the revenue side of the equation. We usually spend time analyzing what the legislature is going to spend money on, but rarely do we look at how they are going to pay for it. But when the “reliability and dependability” (in the words of the Court) of the revenue for education becomes central to the McCleary response, it seems incumbent upon us to be generally aware of this issue.
What is noteworthy is that there is really only about $100 million in truly “new revenue” – either a closed tax loophole or new tax – in this budget. The bulk of how the legislature paid for its budget is through transfers from the Capital budget, reduced budgetary spending (a big chunk of which is assumed savings from the expansion of Medicaid via the Affordable Care Act), and suspension of teacher COLAs. Without getting too technical, the larger question is whether the legislature has done anything to make a robust McCleary response sustainable over a long period of time. In otherwords, we have a “spending plan” but do we have a “funding plan”? I would argue: not.
I imagine the Supreme Court is fairly agnostic on whether the legislature increases taxes, reduces spending, or some combination, but I do think it’s quite clear that something structural will need to transpire before the legislature can support a fully funded program of basic education and sustain it through good economic times and bad.
~ Ben Rarick