Since taking office, I have maintained that the Legislature should be able to pass a budget within the 105-day session. Because our economy is growing, state revenue is expected to increase by $3 billion in the upcoming biennium. This would enable the state to account for inflation and population growth, and still make substantial investments in early learning, K-12 and higher education.
I am disappointed that despite $3 billion in new revenue, the Legislature will enter yet another special session, the 14th since 2000. Special sessions are especially problematic for school districts, which begin budgeting for the upcoming school year in May. Uncertainty in Olympia could force school districts to send out unnecessary lay-off notices.
In terms of education spending, Republicans and Democrats are actually not that far apart. Republicans have proposed $1.28 billion of new K-12 spending to satisfy our McCleary obligation, along with a 25 percent tuition reduction at state universities. Democrats have proposed $1.33 billion of new K-12 spending and are offering to freeze college tuition. Both proposals would contribute $232 million to cost-of-living adjustments for teachers. The difference is that Republicans want to use the $3 billion surplus to pay for these priorities, while Democrats want to use that $3 billion for other items and fund education with a series of new taxes totaling $1.5 billion.
I am hopeful that we can negotiate a balanced, sustainable budget. With the projected revenue increase, we have the means to address education funding, and protect critical services for our most vulnerable citizens, without raising taxes. But we need to get to work immediately, because students, parents and teachers deserve a budget that meets the state’s paramount duty to fund education.