Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a brief last month with the State Supreme Court arguing that the contempt sanctions put on the state due to the McCleary decision should be lifted after the Legislature made historic investments in K-12 education during the 2015 session. The court didn’t agree.
Instead, yesterday the court slapped a $100,000 per day fine on taxpayers for what it views as the state’s failure to take necessary strides toward meeting the requirements of the McCleary decision.
The court’s decision has left elected officials scrambling for a solution, including to question of how the daily fines are to be collected and paid. As the Washington Policy Center points out, the problem is that—under Article 8, Section 4 of the state constitution—money can only be disbursed via an appropriation. In other words, in order to “enforce the court’s fine lawmakers would have to vote on appropriations to fine the state.”
The Seattle Times pointed out the problem and asked Jim Lobsenz, an attorney who specializes in constitutional law. According to Lobsenz, the court order “is not self executing… If the Legislature doesn’t appropriate money to pay the fine, then it won’t get paid.”
The State of New Jersey faced a similar scenario in the 1970’s and reacted too hastily to its court’s ruling. The Washington Policy Center,
“In 1976 the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered schools closed (during the summer) until lawmakers complied with its K-12 adequacy ruling. In response lawmakers enacted the state’s first income tax.
“Did that solve the problem? No, the New Jersey Supreme Court again ruled in 1990 that the state wasn’t funding K-12 adequately.
“What did happen over time, however, is a continuous increasing of the original income tax rates set in 1976 and ongoing tax and budget challenges for New Jersey.
“The top income tax rate adopted in 1976 was 2.5%. The top rate reached a high of 10.75% in 2009 and today maxes out at 8.97%.”
Washington voters have—again and again—overwhelmingly voiced their opposition to a state income tax. Though Democrats would like nothing more than to use the court’s order as an excuse to push a state income tax, they are bound to face fierce opposition
Jay Inslee and legislative leaders will meet on Monday to decide how they will respond.