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Coalition: New Proposal Sidesteps State Budget Issues

PHOTO: State lawmakers in Washington are pondering whether voters would want to amend the Constitution to require that two-thirds of all state revenue be used to fund education. Critics of the idea say it's a noble goal but would make the budget a lot less flexible in future years. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
PHOTO: State lawmakers in Washington are pondering whether voters would want to amend the Constitution to require that two-thirds of all state revenue be used to fund education. Critics of the idea say it's a noble goal but would make the budget a lot less flexible in future years. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
February 6, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A coalition is making some noise about a proposal in the Legislature to direct two-thirds of all new state revenue to education.

According to the group Washington United for Fair Revenue, it seems like a noble goal but would restrict lawmakers' ability to fund other important priorities.

The Washington State Budget and Policy Center has crunched the numbers, and budget analyst Kim Justice said the real issue is that there isn't enough money to go around.

"It's a convenient distraction - that's all I really see this proposal is - as a way to avoid facing the real challenges of our state," she said. "If anything, I would say that this proposal proves that new revenue is needed."

Justice said her group estimates it will take another $3 billion to fully fund the state's current minimum spending priorities. The bill states that other programs have "diverted billions of dollars" from education, but opponents say the state funds many priorities, and needs more budget flexibility.

The coalition is in agreement that more money is needed for elementary and secondary schools. However, Maria Cuevas, a sociology instructor at Yakima Valley Community College, said higher education needs more, too. Where she works, she said, the faculty has had no cost-of-living increases since 2008.

"Besides seeing an eroding of wages, the college has had to cut back on services," she said. "Chemistry lab assistants, those were cut; cuts in the library staff and a reduction in the number of hours available to students."

The legislation doesn't address wage or service cuts, but mentions "making college more affordable" as a goal.

The coalition said other areas also would suffer, from mental-health care to services for seniors and people with disabilities. But Gerry Reilly, who chairs the ElderCare Alliance, said the immediate concern is that the bill could allow lawmakers to sidestep what he sees as Washington's biggest budget problem.

"It's a tactic to divert people away from the fundamental question of our state's most regressive-in-the-nation tax system," he said, "to say, 'We don't need to talk about taxes, because we can simply prioritize our way to a solution.'"

The bill suggests bringing the new funding idea to voters as an amendment to the state Constitution.

The bill is online at apps.leg.wa.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA