McCleary Phase II

The Legislature has made significant progress toward fully funding basic education. In the last three years, we’ve reduced K-3 class sizes, funded all-day kindergarten, and provided kids adequate materials and supplies for their classrooms. But there’s one critical and final component we must deal with – teacher compensation and local levies. The chart below should start to explain the problem.

Average Salaries for TeachersThis chart shows how teacher salaries have been constructed since 1996. The gray portion at the top is the part provided by local levies, not by the state.

Teacher salaries aren’t the only cost. School districts also pay classified staff and administrators, and the split between state and local funding is even greater for these categories than it is for teachers.

There are lots of reasons for this. Some make sense given how the system works and some are the result of the legislature skipping cost of living (COLA) increases during the recent recession. When the Legislature doesn’t fund COLAs, but the local district wants to fund them (in order to actually be able to hire competent teachers) they use money raised in local levies to do so. If it was just extra, above and beyond what is needed to actually be able to hire, this would be expensive, but not a constitutional problem. However, every study that we’ve done shows that they’re paying just about what the market needs them to pay to be able to hire and retain competent employees. The court ruled this unconstitutional because it’s the State’s responsibility to adequately fund basic education, and we’re shirking that duty by foisting part of the cost on local districts. Continue reading

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Constitutional Crisis? Not so much.

19 members of the Republican caucus in the Washington State Senate released an open letter today complaining about a “constitutional crisis” between the Legislature and the Supreme Court over the McCleary decision and the court’s recent order. While the order is politically and practically inconvenient, I don’t see any better way to get the state to comply with our paramount duty – to amply provide for the education of all children residing within our borders.

In dealing with the McCleary case the Supreme Court has taken measured steps to get the Legislature to comply with the paramount duty clause of the constitution. In every circumstance they have chosen the least intrusive measure they could have. Many members of the Republican caucus in the Senate seem to be upset about this and want to eliminate the court’s ability to enforce the constitution.

If Republicans want to change the system to avoid this kind of conflict they can either remove the ability to have the court enforce the basic tenets of the constitution, or they can remove the paramount duty clause. I don’t support either, and neither will the voters.

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Sir Winston Churchill, Hansard, November 11, 1947

Continue reading

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Reminder: SR 520 highway closes this weekend from 11 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, to noon Sunday, Aug. 16

_MG_0405From 11 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, to noon Sunday, Aug. 16, crews will close all lanes and ramps of SR 520 between 92nd Avenue Northeast and Montlake Boulevard. The westbound SR 520 transit lane between 84th Avenue Northeast and Evergreen Point Road will be closed from 11 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, to 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 17. Transit riders should check Metro rider alerts for the most up-to-date information on where to catch their bus this weekend. During this closure, WSDOT crews will perform annual maintenance activities on the existing bridge including testing of the existing drawspan.

We encourage travelers to plan ahead during a busy Seattle summer weekend of sporting events and festivals. When SR 520 is closed, use alternative options like I-90, transit and carpools, as needed. To see a list of the major events and closures in the region in August, check out WSDOT’s interactive closure and event calendar.

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Ross’ Statement on August McCleary Order

funded class sizeThe Supreme Court released a new order in the McCleary case this morning, holding the state in contempt and fining it $100,000 per day (to pay for basic education) until it resolves the remaining issues, including both the unconstitutional dependence on local levies to pay for basic education personnel costs and the cost of construction of new classroom space. They also expressed concern about the pace of the phase-in of class size reductions.

It’s important to know that the phase-in plan in the budget we passed this year completely pays for the class size reductions called for in the McCleary order. The court recognized the work done by the Legislature in funding class size reductions, but seems to be concerned about the phase-in of lower class sizes.  There is some confusion in how the cost of this investment is described in various documents, and we will work with the court to clarify this. The attached chart shows the level of funded class size and those recommended by the task force the court refers to.

House Democrats proposed a joint process to resolve the personnel cost issue with the Senate and Governor’s office and passed legislation (HB 2239) putting the process in place on June 26th. The Republicans in the Senate refused to take up the bill or offer any alternative.

I share the court’s concern about finalizing the plan sooner rather than later. Governor Inslee has called a meeting of all four caucus leaders for Monday to create a public process to resolve these issues expeditiously.

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Capital Budget – Building Stuff

The capital budget is the fund we use to make long-term investments in (mostly) physical things that are going to be around for a while. School construction, new buildings for colleges and universities, park acquisition, stuff like that. Just like your home mortgage, some of these investments are done on borrowed money.

The state constitution limits the amount of debt service that can be paid to 9% of “general state revenue,” so this puts a limit on the total that can be borrowed. I think this is a quite reasonable limitation.

There are useful investments in the budget passed this year, like hundreds of millions in new K-12 school construction funds. These are critical if we want to have the space needed for additional classrooms to accommodate smaller class sizes. There are also a number that are more fun, like a $1 million contribution to Bellevue’s “Imagination Playground”, a facility built to be accessible to all kids, especially including those with disabilities. It’s a project being spearheaded by the Bellevue Rotary. There are also contributions to two Boys and Girls club facilities in Bellevue – the new fieldhouse in Hidden Valley and the rebuild of the main clubhouse on 100th Ave. Kirkland gets some help building the cross-Kirkland corridor, and Redmond gets funding to complete the downtown park and help Hopelink with its integrated services center. You can see a map of these projects here.

Without contributions like these from the state, projects like these would be unaffordable by local governments and non-profits. I’m glad that we were able to pass a Capital Budget this year after fulfilling our constitutional obligation to fun McCleary and other social services.

 

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Transportation!

Fogging the deck

Crews spray down the deck of the new, temporary westbound SR 520 off-ramp to Montlake Boulevard to keep it moist in the hot weather before placing wet burlap to let the concrete cure. (Photo – WSDOT)

On Friday, July 10 the House approved the final agreement on Transportation. I’m happy to have supported it, though I have some concerns. (You always do when it’s a compromise between groups with very different views about the appropriate set of investments.)

The Good:

  • The SR 520 bridge will be finished. There is $1.6 billion in the package for the remaining part of the West landing. There is also funding for a new SR 520 interchange at 148th Ave. to support major developments in the Overlake area. This should help alleviate a lot of the slowdowns in that area and allow more density so that we have less sprawl. Also included is planning for a new interchange on SR 520 at 124th Ave. that will allow the Spring District in Bellevue to grow and have rational access to the freeway.
  • A new I-405 lane from Bellevue to Renton, plus lots of work on the SR 167 interchange.
  • Sound Transit III authorized.
  • This package is the largest investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure ever in our state. There are some super Eastside projects I’ll write about once I deconstruct the whole package.

The Bad: Continue reading

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Post-Session Notes, Operating Budget Comments

The Washington State House of Representatives convenes for floor session March 9, 2015, the 57th day of the legislative session.

Rep. Kagi and I working on the Early Start bill on the floor of the House. My Sound Transit water bottle is in the foreground.

Thank  you again for letting me represent you in Olympia. It’s an honor and a privilege, though I feel much less privileged when the session runs into July. We finished our work Friday morning June 10th, passing a transportation spending bill and bills that allow the state to take out bonds based on the revenue. We also passed a small bill changing high school graduation requirements, the centerpiece of a disagreement in the Senate over initiative 1351 (class size reduction.) The graduation bill delays the imposition of the science standards for two years, allowing 2000 kids who met all the graduation requirements other than passing the biology end of course exam to graduate. It does NOT make a number of other changes I took issue with when they came up earlier in session.

In the last week of June we passed the 2015-17 operating budget, my particular responsibility in the Legislature. It’s reasonably straightforward and didn’t need to take us until the end of June to resolve, but the Republican Senate was unwilling to compromise on their all-gimmicks, no revenue strategy until the very end. In the last few days we came to an agreement that is a true compromise – the House conceded to the use of more financial shortcuts than we would have preferred and the Republican Senate agreed to close $350 million of tax loopholes. I didn’t get everything I wanted, and there are some elements of the deal that are distasteful. I think the same is true for the Senate Republicans. Had we gone past June 30th the state would have gone into a partial shutdown, including laying off doctors and nurses, shutting childcare facilities for 50,000 kids (which would cause 30,000 low-income single moms to lose their jobs or depend on sketchy care), and other bad things.

I’m glad to live and work in “this” Washington, a place where we can discuss issues rationally and come to compromises, unlike the “other” Washington where they seem to have great difficulty in doing so. I do wish it took less time. Continue reading

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McCleary, the Court and Funding Compensation

Chris Vance has a lot to say in this article on Crosscut that I agree with, but more that I don’t.

Washington State Temple of Justice – Home of the State Supreme Court

He is right that the Legislature didn’t address the compensation element and still needs to. I expect the court to have something to say on this soon.

However, he and Superintendent Dorn remain confused about the scope of class-size reduction requirements the court specifies. He seems to believe that the court is requiring class size reductions in grades 4-12. They are not.

The Legislature created many advisory groups to provide input for the decisions it would make on class size investments, compensation, etc. These groups, while often providing valuable advice, do not make decisions that become part of the definition of “basic education.” If they did we would  be spending prodigious amounts of money indeed. The Legislature reserves for itself the definition of basic education, and, based on inputs from several advisory groups, made those changes in HB 2776 in 2010. This created requirements for lower class sizes in K-3, all-day Kindergarten, a transportation funding formula that was based on expected costs, and maintenance and supplies funding. The court Specifically insisted that the Legislature fund the definition in that bill. We have done so. Both House Democrat and Senate Republican budgets funded a rational phase in of these investments, and provide adequate funding in the 2017-19 biennium to finish the job before 2018. The final budget does as well.

I agree with Mr. Vance that compensation for basic education employees is a responsibility of the state, not of local districts, and that significant structural changes will need to be made to how funding goes out to address the problem. I proposed HB 2239 this year that created a plan to work this out, with an court-enforceable deadline of 2018. The Senate Republicans refused to take up the bill, and did not send their proposal over to the House. This might lead one to believe that they are choosing to ask the court to be more aggressive in forcing resolution.

The remaining problem is about $3.5 billion a biennium, not $5 billion a year. Much, but not all of this is already being paid by taxpayers and a large part of the problem could be resolved with a wrenching property tax change that would be close to revenue-neutral at the state level, but cause significant tax increases in urban areas and corresponding decreases in rural areas. Not surprisingly, this has been resisted by urban areas who suggest a more balanced way of addressing the problem using capital gains or some other mechanism in addition to some of the property tax changes I and others have proposed over the years.

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Legislature Still has Work to Do

House budget writer Rep. Ross Hunter watches amazing 90-8 bipartisan vote on budget

You may have read in the press that the Legislature got a budget done by midnight on June 30th, allowing the state to continue providing unemployment assistance, Medicaid, childcare, public schools, college classes, and all of the other things that we have decided to do collectively. I am frustrated that we were unable to come to an agreement more quickly, but pleased that we got it done. I’ll write more about the budget and what’s in it over the next few weeks.

However, we have work to do before we sign off. The Senate is high-centered on I-1351. I predicted that it would be difficult to come to a 2/3 vote on this issue and was proven correct by Tuesday night’s activities. Melissa Santos has a reasonable summary in the Tacoma News Tribune.

Continue reading

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(Almost) Post-Session Advice

You’ll start getting some (almost) post-session notes from me now that I have time to digest what happened and what still needs to be finished. I have not had time recently to keep up with posting the advice cards I got from kids at Somerset Elementary in Bellevue so I’ll release several as catch-up. I believe this one is the 13th in the series. I have another dozen or so in reserve and will put them up as I get to it. These almost deserve a book of their own – to be handed out to legislators as they take office.

Advice Card 11

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