A fragile local economy and lack of improvement in our state’s education system were the status quo when a bipartisan group established a governing coalition in the Washington state Senate this past December.
After eight years of single-party control of the state Senate, House of Representatives and governor’s office the status quo wasn’t fulfilling Washington residents’ requests for state government to adequately respond to their concerns.
In my three years in the Senate I’ve heard repeated calls for lawmakers to be more responsible and efficient with tax dollars; seen balance sheets showing that businesses are struggling to stay open or add jobs due to a burdensome business climate; and received an order from our state’s Supreme Court for the Legislature to improve funding and policies for Washington’s K-12 education system.
The response to those requests by leaders in the House of Representatives and the Governor?
Propose raising billions of dollars in additional taxes without any increased accountability for state government, break the Legislature’s earlier promises by attempting to make temporary taxes permanent, and use our children’s education – our number-one constitutional duty – as leverage to raise these taxes, of which less than half the proceeds would be used to increase education funding.
As a political moderate trying to create a budget that everyone hates the least, this entire legislative session has been about compromise. I’ve spent as much time building consensus with Democrats in the House of Representatives as I have with Republicans and Democrats in the Majority Coalition Caucus.
Having developed “the most open and inclusive way that a budget has ever been built,” according to my Democratic minority caucus counterpart in the Senate, I’ve been working non-stop to compromise.
The Washington residents I talk to say that’s what they want – for their elected officials to be willing to move the state government forward based on best practices and protect the services they care about without regard for partisan ideology.
However, there is an area where I am not willing to compromise: our children’s education, which strongly influences their and society’s future. In both budgets crafted and passed by the Senate, we allocated an additional $1.5 billion for K-12 education during the next budget cycle.
When we did this the response from stakeholders with vested interest in the status quo was to decry it for not being enough. However, upon realization by leaders in the House of Representatives that there were not enough votes to pass a massive tax increase, they drastically lowered overall spending.
What concerns me most and should concern parents statewide is that more than 75 percent of those spending reductions came from their overall funding for K-12 education, placing it well below the Senate’s threshold.
Additionally, our bipartisan plan targets funding toward areas of greatest need, including closing the increasing “opportunity gap” for minority children from low-income families and prioritizing evidence-based programs that have been proven effective.
The partisan House plan simply spreads more money throughout the system without regard for the actual outcomes.
We need to come to a resolution that fits the priorities of Washington residents, and soon; by the time you are reading this we very well may have done so. That is because despite partisan rhetoric intended to incite rather than unite, the Republican and Democratic officials you have elected continue to work to build consensus toward a successful path forward that meets the needs of our state.