State legislators need to muster some serious self-motivation when they return to Olympia to write a budget that fully funds basic education. That’s what the state Supreme Court ordered them to do in 2012, but to this point agreement on an approach to fully funding education has been elusive.
The high court’s effort to pressure lawmakers has been ineffective. And last week the Supreme Court once again let the Legislature off the hook for not fulfilling its constitutional obligation.
The high court on Thursday opted to let its $100,000-a-day fine ride at least until lawmakers convene in January for its budget-writing session.
Frankly, it really doesn’t matter. The $100,000-a-day fine is a joke — and it’s not funny.
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The justices imposed the fine on the state last year, but it’s not real. It’s like an IOU note. Not a penny has come out of the state operating budget or the supplemental budget approved this year. The state supposedly owes more than $40 million that it will someday pay to, well, itself.
It’s no wonder the Legislature has dithered for four years on this issue. In 2012, the court ruled that relying on local voter-approved levies to fund a major portion of school funding is unconstitutional.
The only thing clear at this point is that if lawmakers start tinkering with local levies — how much money can be raised, what it can be spent on and what state tax replaces it (to name just a few) — the impact on the various school districts around the state will be dramatically different. Taxpayers in those districts will also feel a financial impact.
Presumably, the property-rich school districts (think Mercer Island on the west side) would be picking up the tab for the cash-strapped districts in the state.
Lawmakers from both parties are now meeting to go over spreadsheets of various scenarios of levy-funding shifts showing what districts will gain and which will lose.
It’s likely there are no scenarios in which each and every district would be pleased.
Lawmakers and the governor need to accept that they can’t make everyone happy. They need to do what’s best for the students and make it as painless as possible for taxpayers.
From a purely parochial standpoint, we would like to see the land-rich districts pick up a bigger share of the tab so that smaller and rural districts can have equal funding.
Yet, we understand it’s not that simple when billions of dollars are in play. A lot of compromises will have to be made, and that’s difficult.
But being difficult isn’t an excuse. Lawmakers need to self-motivate themselves to craft a reasonable and constitutional budget that fully funds basic education.