SEATTLE (AP) — Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he will push to close tax exemptions to find another $200 million for Washington’s public schools.
Republican leaders in the Legislature have said they will oppose efforts to add to the education budget this year.
The money would pay for the reforms the Legislature has already approved, plus fulfilling a promise from the electorate by giving a 1.3 percent salary increase to teachers and staff.
“Without money, reforms aren’t real. They’re just hollow promises,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference in Olympia.
Inslee said the money will include sending $130 million to K-12 public schools to pay for textbooks, computers and curriculum updates.
He wants to close seven tax breaks, all proposals he made last year during the longer legislative budget session.
The governor said he was inspired to find more money for education this year by the Supreme Court’s recent order that the state needs to move more quickly toward fully paying the cost of basic education.
“We need some gas in the tank for reform,” Inslee said.
The governor said he will do whatever he can to change the minds of lawmakers who oppose the spending increase, but he would not commit to keeping lawmakers in Olympia until they meet his demands.
“Hopefully, the public can talk to their legislators to tell them inaction is not action,” Inslee said.
When asked about lawmakers being worried about raising taxes before November’s election, the veteran of more than a dozen political campaigns said putting more money into education is a winning strategy at the ballot box.
State Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said Republicans would look at the governor’s proposal but noted that tax exemptions are difficult to close.
“To try and do things like the governor suggests now, it’s very difficult, especially in a short session,” said the chairman of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, who noted that lawmakers were already two weeks into the 60-day session.
Hill said Republicans want to provide amply for the education of all children, but says there are wildly different ways of achieving such a goal and it takes time.
Democrats released a statement in support of the governor’s plan, saying progress must be made every year until the state fulfills its obligation to its children.
“A short session is no excuse for not doing our constitutional duty,” said the statement from House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, and Senate Democratic leader Sharon Nelson, D-Murray Island.
Last year, lawmakers put about $1 billion more into the education budget to make a down payment on the estimated $4 billion to $5 billion it will take to fulfill the requirements of the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. That order told lawmakers they must meet the state constitutional requirement to amply pay the cost of basic education.
The Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee says it will be a lot harder for the Legislature to meet its education funding goals and answer the Supreme Court order without yearly financial progress.
“The House passed a budget last year that would have made the court pretty happy,” said Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina. After budget negotiations, the final budget that went to the governor’s desk took several hundred million out of the education budget.
The governor and the Democrats want to put that money back in this year, but Hunter is doubtful the Republicans will get on board.
“I think the Republicans think that the Constitution doesn’t apply to them,” he said.
Inslee called the tax exemptions he wanted to close inefficient, outdated or simply not as high a priority as educating the state’s young people.
The exemptions he would close include:
—A sales tax exemption for trade-ins valued at more than $10,000.
—A public utility tax deduction for interstate transportation.
—A tax exemption on extracted fuel.
—A refund of sales tax to nonresidents.
—A sales tax exemption for bottled water.
—A sales tax exemption for janitorial services.
—A special business tax rate for resellers of prescription drugs.
AP reporter Lisa Baumann contributed to this story from Olympia.
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