The legislative agenda in 2015 is clear—the Legislature must pass a balanced and sustainable budget that includes education reforms and funding as required by the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision and a transportation package that meets the pressing needs of the traveling public across Washington State. The path toward achieving both outcomes promises to be long and rocky—not least because of Democrat lawmakers’ demonstrated tendency to obstruct legislative progress in an extended pout over losing control of the State Senate in 2013.
This Throw Back Thursday, we are taking a look at how Democrats—with the help of their “leader”, Jay Inslee—proved themselves roadblocks to education spending (a repetition of the last 30 years) and a transportation package during the last legislative session.
Perhaps one of the most stunning developments of the 2014 legislative cycle occurred when Democrats in the state Senate reversed their positions on SB 5246, a bill that protected local control of $44 million in federal education funding. SB 5246 would have required student test scores to be one of many factors used to evaluate teacher performance. Washington State’s current law states that test scores “can” be used in teacher evaluations. In order to secure the federal money, the U.S. Department of Education requires the word “can” to be changed to “must.”
Leading up to the vote, SB 5246 had support from both sides of the aisle to pass—despite the Washington Education Association’s (WEA) intense opposition to the bill. It appeared as though even Democrat State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, long a tool of the WEA, had found the political courage to deny the WEA what it wanted given the millions at stake. For a time, the bill had bi-partisan support—enough votes from Democrats and Republicans to pass. In fact, McAuliffe went as far as to introduce the reform bill. She voiced her support for the use of test scores on teacher evaluations and for the bill itself in public. In the end, McAuliffe buckled under the pressure of the WEA. In an about-face move, McAuliffe rejected the bill and took the necessary votes for passage with her.
Schools across Washington State felt the consequences of the federal waiver loss. With the McCleary decision in the background, school districts felt the impact of losing control of $44 million—funds typically allocated to helping low income students achieve success through after-school help. Revealing the WEA’s out-of-touch position on education funding in our state, a union representative told lawmakers that they should not worry about the possible loss of control over $40 million because school districts have a “huge amount of money.”
Additionally, the New York Times reported that “nearly nine in 10 Washington State public schools, including some high-achieving campuses in the state’s most moneyed communities, have been relegated to a federal blacklist of failure, requiring them to set aside 20 percent of their federal funding for private tutoring or to transport students to schools not on the failing list, if parents wish.” State Senator Steve Litzow said that, by refusing to use student test scores as an aspect of teacher evaluations, “the adults put their interests above the children.”
It remains to be seen whether or not Democrats—and their big money supporters at the WEA—will continue to put their interests ahead of children’s education this session. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan promised to re-issue a waiver to Washington State if and when the state decides to use test scores as a part of teacher evaluations. A handful of legislators will reintroduce legislation that would meet Duncan’s criteria during the 2015 legislative session.
Jay Inslee did his part in placing roadblocks to funding education first and meeting the McCleary decision requirements. As Shift reported, our green governor failed to publically denounce the WEA’s latest move to grab money at the expense of our children. The WEA managed to narrowly pass Initiative 1351, under the guise of smaller class sizes. In reality, if it remains in effect, I-1351 promises to add to the WEA’s war chest and gain control of the Legislature’s purse strings. It is a stunning detriment to achieving education reforms and funding. In fact, the News Tribune went as far as to accuse the WEA of “malicious mischief.”
For their part, Democrats like Rep. Ross Hunter, Rep. Reuven Carlyle, Rep. Tana Senn, Rep. Judy Clibborn, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells and Sen. Jamie Pedersen all publically opposed I-1351. But, our green governor decided that election night was the appropriate time to inform Washingtonians that he voted no on the union’s latest money grab. When it was too late to make a difference either way, Inslee timidly suggested that he did not support I-1351. In the end, I-1351 passed by a very narrow margin. Inslee’s refusal to publicize the issue may have well acted as the deciding factor.
Last month, Inslee managed to inflate the problem I-1351 presents to the Legislature when he announced that he does not support repealing the initiative. Of course, our green governor’s announcement came as no surprise—throughout his time in office, Inslee has stood faithfully by the WEA as repayment for the union’s million-dollar campaign donation.
Democrats continued to demonstrate their obstructionist tendencies on the issue of transportation. During the 2014 legislative session, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus presented a transportation bill that Senate Democrats—led by Sen. Tracey Eide who was co-chair of the Transportation Committee—promptly killed. Eide actually admitted to preventingthe transportation bill from coming to a vote because she needed “leverage” for her own package, which involved raising taxes to fund new road, transit and pedestrian projects without any reforms to the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT). She publically announced, “I get a package, [then] we’ll hear reforms… It’s the only leverage I have.”
The MCC’s transportation package included necessary reforms that would work to restore public trust in WSDOT by improving accountability and transparency. Unfortunately, Democrats refused to accept, or even compromise on, the reforms.
As Shift reported, Jay Inslee decided he would sabotage any chance for a transportation package in two ways. First, Inslee decided to play extreme partisan politics and violated a confidentiality agreement between his office and transportation negotiators from the Legislature. Leaking inaccurate details from the confidential talks, Inslee managed to torpedo transportation compromises one year in the making.
Second, Inslee refused to give lawmakers the peace of mind by promising he would not jam his fuel mandate through by executive order. Inslee’s refusal hurt chances to pass a comprehensive transportation package. The fact that Inslee went on to sign a pact with Oregon, California and British Columbia pledging to enact low-carbon fuel standards, together with a cap-and-trade policy, without the approval of the Legislature only worked to further legislators’ distrust.
Inslee is already on course to jam his fuel mandate through via executive order in 2015—he made his intention loud and clear last month. As Shift previously pointed out, if Inslee truly wants to work with the Legislature to pass a comprehensive transportation package in 2015 legislative, he would take the possibility of forcing his fuel mandate via executive order off the table. Unfortunately, he continues to refuse to do that.
Passing a balanced budget, complete with proper education funding and a transportation package, is important—they are the chief priorities of the 2015 legislative session. Though, if you believe Inslee, punishing polluters by passing a cap-and-tax and fuel mandate is the top agenda issue. Nonetheless, here’s hoping history does not repeat itself in 2015.