Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday proposed ending several tax breaks to put an additional $600 million into K-12 education over the next three years. Republicans, who control the Senate, argue the Legislature can wait because legislators put an additional $1 billion into education last year.
By Andrew Garber
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday proposed ending several tax breaks to put an additional $600 million into K-12 education over the next three years.
Ending the breaks, including tax exemptions for bottled water and janitorial services, would put an additional $200 million into K-12 education this coming year and an additional $414 million during the next two-year budget cycle.
Inslee views his proposal as a down payment, noting the state Supreme Court recently warned lawmakers they weren’t moving fast enough to meet a court mandate on K-12 spending.
“The Supreme Court said it needs to see immediate, concrete action, not simply promises,” Inslee said.
While House Democrats support putting more money into education this year, Republicans, who control the Senate, argue the Legislature can wait.
“There’s a fairly broad consensus that in a 60-day session, with only 44 days left, it’s going to be hard to do something that would really reopen the whole budget,” Senate Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said.
The state Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the Legislature was violating the state’s constitution by failing to provide ample funding for public K-12 education.
It gave lawmakers until 2018 to raise education spending by an additional $3.5 billion to $7 billion per biennium, depending on whether the total includes more state money for teacher pay. It based the order on the Legislature’s own definition of what it means to provide a basic education for the state’s 1 million students.
Earlier this month, the court turned up the pressure by issuing an order that knocks lawmakers for moving too slowly.
Inslee argues the Legislature needs to act now if it’s to meet the court’s demands.
“If we don’t take this step, we will be falling behind the pace we need to maintain,” he said.
The proposal laid out Tuesday by the governor details how he would raise the money and where it would go.
Inslee proposes spending $130 million on basic K-12 materials and operations starting next school year. An additional $74 million would go to a cost-of-living increase for teachers.
Ending the tax breaks on his list would fully fund those proposals through the next two-year budget as well, according to his budget office.
Inslee said the current starting pay allocated by the state for teachers is $34,048, down from $34,426 five years ago. The cost-of-living increase would bring pay back to roughly where it was previously, according to the governor’s office.
Inslee proposes getting rid of a sales-tax exemption for bottled water and a sales-tax exemption for janitorial services, among others. Those two alone would bring in more than $40 million in the next fiscal year.
Another proposal would eliminate a sales-tax exemption for motor-vehicle trade-ins valued over $10,000. Currently, car buyers are charged a sales tax only on the difference between the purchase price of a new vehicle and the trade-in value of their old car.
Inslee proposes limiting the exemption to the first $10,000 in value of the trade-in. It would be worth about $45 million in additional tax collection over the next fiscal year.
The governor indicated he’s talked to GOP leaders about his proposal.
“The other party has said they don’t want to spend another dime on our children’s education this year,” Inslee said,
Republican leaders say there’s no need to hurry because the Legislature put an additional $1 billion into education last year and it will take time to figure out a way to come up with the rest of the funding that’s needed.