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Last-Minute State Budget Fireworks Continue

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Gov. Jay Inslee has been putting in some long days and evenings, along with members of the Washington Legislature, and they're still not quite done with education-related issues and how to fund them. Courtesy: AARP Washington.
Gov. Jay Inslee has been putting in some long days and evenings, along with members of the Washington Legislature, and they're still not quite done with education-related issues and how to fund them. Courtesy: AARP Washington.
July 2, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Gov. Jay Inslee calls the operating budget he signed into law this week "forward-thinking, responsible and fair."

Most Washingtonians would add, '...and a long time coming,' after multiple special sessions and votes that aren't quite over.

Bernal Baca is the government affairs director for American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Washington, the union that represents some faculty members and support staff in public schools and colleges. He says late Tuesday night, the feeling of relief in Olympia was palpable.

"It was a relief and I think everybody feels that way," says Baca. "Everybody didn't get what they wanted, but still, you walk away with something. And it's a maintenance budget - it's keeping things going. It's not adding pieces that were lost."

Baca is referring to a common criticism this session of legislators' unwillingness to raise new revenue through a capital gains tax on investment income, and continuing to depend heavily on local tax levies for education funding.

And they're still debating how to implement Initiative 1351, the voter mandate to cut class sizes in public schools. The budget includes it for grades K-through-3. The governor says that isn't enough.

The new budget also allows for some tuition reductions for higher education, although Baca describes that as a mixed blessing. His view is that lower tuition doesn't do enough to help those students who still have to rely on financial aid. Despite a backlog, lawmakers didn't increase funding for the State Need Grant program.

"I'm not sure how this is all going to pan out for the institutions, whether it's a net gain or a net loss," says Baca. "But I do know we have a lot of eligible students, and so the State Need Grant is very important. We've been an advocate for full funding of the State Need Grant."

Baca adds state-funded education workers are pleased to be getting a 4.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment, spread over two years, after six years without one.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA