Since the state Supreme Court issued a $100,000 per day fine on the state last week for the failure of Democrats to provide adequate funding for the state’s public schools over the last 30 years, liberal lawmakers have been suggesting “solutions” to meeting the requirements of the court’s 2012 McCleary decision.
Considering it’s Democrats we’re talking about here, it should come as no surprise that many of these “solutions” are actually just calls for new taxes—or, as Jay Inslee recently put it, “additional revenue sources.”
That means hold on to your wallet.
Despite bold calls for new taxes, Democrats appear to have a unity problem over how the court’s order should be approached, or even on the legitimacy of the order itself. It’s a problem that plagued Democrats during the 2015 legislative session when, in the end, they all turned on one another. And, it’s a problem that appears will impact how Democrats respond to the court’s order.
Democrat state Rep. Jim Moeller—the number three Democrat in the state House—recently stated that he believes the court’s order is “appropriate” and “should not go ignored.” Moeller went on to suggest that a state income tax is a solution to the problems pointed out by the court.
Inslee followed up, and validated, Moeller’s statements by stating that the court’s order should be respected, but also declining to call the special session the court wanted. Our green governor also claimed the state needed new revenue sources to raise the money—he estimates an additional $3 billion a biennium—to appease the court. Specifically, Inslee claimed that the state would require “spectacular revenue growth” or “some additional revenue source” to meet the constitutional duty which Democrat governors have ignored since 1985.
Democrat State Representative Ross Hunter—he writes the Democrats’ budget in the House—wouldn’t go so far as to call for a state income tax. However, Hunter did say that appeasing the court would require an additional $3.5 billion every two years “on top of the $38.2 billion the state is already spending in its current two-year budget cycle.” Hunter also stated that the most difficult part of the problem was reaching a consensus on “how to pay for it.” No doubt, Hunter’s ideal solution is what he pushed during the 2015 legislative session: a state capital gains income tax.
However, the Democrats’ careful messaging all seemed to fall apart with comments made by state Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia. In an interview with the Yakima Herald, Hunt expressed frustration over the court’s order and stated that it left him wondering if the justices were “paying attention” to what legislators were doing during session. Hunt said,
“We increased K-12 by $1.3 billion, plus giving (cost-of-living adjustments) to teachers, plus doing some huge funding for early childhood education. That was our first step. Without knowing where our additional revenue is coming from, I don’t know how we can craft a plan.”
Hunt went on to reject a state capital gains income tax as a possible additional revenue source because, although the tax “might get a few more Democratic votes in the House,” it still wouldn’t get enough to pass. Essentially, Hunt admitted what Shift said all along: new tax revenue would not come from a state capital gains income tax because House Speaker Frank Chopp did not have the votes to pass new taxes out of his caucus.
Hunt’s comments likely brought him a phone call from Speaker Chopp, for more reasons than that they revealed the truth. His comments also exposed the lack of unity among Democrat ranks—a lack of unity that caused the 2015 legislative session to drag on at taxpayers’ expense.
Despite the court’s order, taxpayers will be spared further expense. Inslee, after meeting with Republican and Democrat legislative leaders on Monday, announced he does not have plans to call a special session to address the McCleary decision-driven $100,000 per day fine. While legislative leaders will work behind the scenes to reach a solution, lawmakers appear to be taking the fine for what it is: a largely symbolic public relations move by the liberal justices.
As Shift has pointed out, money can only be disbursed via appropriation by the state Legislature. If lawmakers decide not to appropriate money to pay the fine, then it won’t get paid.