If Democrats in the state House are serious about passing the 2015-17 budget in a timely manner, they will introduce their version on Monday, according to press reports. As Shift reported, it is vital Democrats introduce and pass their budget next week, as promised, so that the state Senate can follow-up shortly after. After all, the state House and Senate “need time to resolve differences between the budgets” in order to adjourn on time.
Of course, given the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, education funding has the spotlight in the 2015-17 budget. And, taking their lines from Jay Inslee’s claims following the release of his budget proposal, Democrat lawmakers have been scrambling to make it appear as though education funding is their primary concern.
In light of next week’s promised deadline, it’s important to consider what Democrats have proven over the years they value more than public education funding, which is the state’s paramount duty. In the past, Democrats consistently placed spending money on the special interests that fund their campaigns over our public schools. Inslee’s budget proposal followed the same pattern.
The reality is that Democrats have been underfunding public education and higher education spending for a generation. They have controlled at least one house of the Legislature in 28 of the last 30 years – and had complete control of the Legislature in 14 of those years. A Democrat governor has signed every state budget since 1985. Under these heavily Democrat-controlled budgets, the ratio of education versus non-education spending was 1:2 (in other words, the Democrats’ priority was two dollars for bigger general government for every new dollar of education funding).
Democrats talking about prioritizing education funding is just that – talk.
On the other hand, Republicans have already proved their sincerity in prioritizing education funding. During the last two legislative sessions, with Senate controlled by the Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) and Republican leadership, the state budget has prioritized education over non-education spending at a 4:1 ratio for the first time in 30 years. That’s all without raising taxes. The State Supreme Court referred to the change as significant progress.
Inslee took a different approach in his latest budget proposal, choosing to rely on raising taxes to fund education. In fact, he treated education funding as second to rewarding his million-dollar campaign donors, particularly state employee unions, with pay hikes to the tune of a whopping $867 million. As Shift reported, Inslee even asked “universities and colleges to make up some of the costs of pay hikes” using tuition dollars.
Inslee’s budget and Democrats’ budgeting history makes it obvious that Democrats value special interests their priorities over public education funding. But, just how much Democrats value special interest funding may shock you.
Inslee went so far as to cut the following programs in the budget proposal that state law required him to make without tax increases, his so-called “Book I budget”, all to fund his labor contract deals (a result of his secret negotiations with union executives):
- $262 million in cuts to K-12 Levy Equalization.
- Elimination of over 1,000 early learning slots.
- $256 million in cuts to state financial aid for low-income college students.
- 10% reduction to higher education institutions, which would necessitate tuition hikes.
- Let all prisoners out of state prison 150 days early in order to save $115 million.
- $58 million in cuts to nursing home funding.
- Reduce funding for victims of sexual assaults
- Cut breast and cervical cancer screening
Whether or not Democrats will produce their budget by March 23 is unclear—doing so would indicate they are serious about proceeding with honest negotiation efforts and adjourning this legislative session on time. Unfortunately, whenever Democrats decide to release their budget, they are likely to continue the pattern of treating education funding as second to special interests.