Opinion

K-12 funding must be at top of state's priority list

When I asked constituents for the job of state representative, I knew the challenges we face as a state, but I also knew that it was also a great opportunity to show leadership. Changing the status quo in Olympia will only happen if we focus on priorities and budget accordingly.

At the March 17 state revenue forecast, the public heard tax collections were $780 million less than expected. However, there was some very encouraging news: the revenue forecasted for the 2011-13 budget cycle increased by $3.85 billion, or nearly 14 percent, bringing total tax revenue to a record high of $32.7 billion.

With this forecast in hand, House Democrats proposed their spending plan, House Bill 1087, on April 4 and held a public hearing the same day. Unfortunately, many citizens could not arrange a last-minute trip to Olympia to read the nearly 500-page document in three hours then offer testimony on the contents.

While the Democrat’s 2009-11 budget spends roughly $28.5 billion, their proposed 2011-13 budget beginning July 1, 2011, spends $32.7 billion. Their budget also includes gimmicks like delaying payments for one day to avoid an expense in the current budget, one-time money transfers for ongoing programs and a scheme to lease our state’s liquor distribution center for a one-time flat fee of $300 million.

Despite increased spending, the dialogue is that we still have a $5.1 billion shortfall. To fill this spending gap, special interest groups have called on the Legislature to “close tax loopholes” and spend even more than the additional 14 percent. I have heard that not taxing elective plastic surgery is a “loophole.” We don’t tax any service, so if we eliminate this tax incentive, we would have to tax every service business in the state to ensure every employer is treated equally.

The so-called “loopholes” are more accurately described as “job-creating tax incentives” that help employers, employees and hard-working families. There are great examples of successful job-creating tax incentives, like those for high-tech data centers in Moses Lake and Alcoa’s plant in Wenatchee, which have created hundreds of family-wage jobs.

Those demanding removal of tax incentives haven’t told the public their proposal, Senate Bill 5857, would remove the tax preference for food. This would result in a $1.7 billion tax increase on Washington families. I will not support taxing food when many families are struggling. Ironically, an additional 23 tax incentives for movies, baseball stadiums, property tax relief for tribes and zoos have been proposed this year by the very interest groups advocating for closing them. Why create more if they are the problem?

It’s time to get back to the principles of good government and pragmatic budgeting. We must put K-12 education at the top of our funding priorities. We can no longer sustain and expand every government program while slashing school funding.

It’s time to be leaders. There is absolutely no good reason lawmakers should be in Olympia after April 24.  I remain hopeful that it is a great time in our state’s history because we can balance the state budget while protecting people, jobs and taxpayers.

By Rep. Cathy Dahlquist; she is serving her first term as a state representative in the 31st Legislative District.

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