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Washington schools chief Randy Dorn weighs in on whether a levy swap is a good idea (He thinks it is)

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Oct. 9, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
October 9, 2012 3:23 pm

I wasn’t able to make contact with Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn last week when I was writing about Democratic candidate for governor Jay Inslee‘s recent attacks on something called the levy swap.

I wrote about it Sunday, as well as the reaction from some Democrats to the attempts to politicize the issue.

The levy swap is a proposal by some legislative budget writers from both parties to partially respond to the state Supreme Court’s January finding that the state is violating its own constitution by failing to amply and fairly fund basic education. The swap deals with the issue by taking part of the property tax now collected as the result of voter-approved local levies and shifts it into the state portion of the regular property tax. The money would help the state cover costs of basic education now unconstitutionally carried by local districts.

State schools chief Randy Dorn

Inslee has called it an “Olympia gimmick” and stresses that it would cause a shift in tax burden from some districts to others – mostly but not exclusively from poorer districts to richer districts. But overall the swap would be revenue neutral in that the same total dollars would flow from property owners to school funding.

Dorn stressed that he was not commenting directly on Inslee or his campaign tactics. But he did say that the levy swap was a necessary part of whatever the Legislature does to respond to the court order.

“Everything solution oriented should be on the table,” Dorn said. And the levy swap is a solution oriented idea, he said.

Dorn noted that the court found that the state was falling short in a number of funding areas, two of which are student transportation and money for things such as heat, supplies and instructional materials. Those two items alone have been short-funded by the state at about $750 million a biennium, costs now picked up by the local levy.

The local levy will have to be reduced anyway under the McCleary ruling as the state picks up the tab for basic education costs and in order to make funding more equal. Dorn thinks it makes sense to shift some of the local capacity into the state levy. And while he agrees that the swap will cause some to pay more and some to pay less, he views that not as a reason not to pursue it. Instead, he says policy makers need to be able to explain it to taxpayers.

Dorn also disagreed with both Inslee and Republican candidate Rob McKenna that the entire solution to McCleary can be done without finding new sources of revenue.

“The most difficult issue either of the candidates will have to face is how to fund education,” Dorn said. (Here’a an earlier post on Dorn’s school-funding plan.)

Dorn served with Inslee in the state House of Representatives and he supports his campaign for governor. While he was not consulted by the campaign before the attacks on the levy swap were launched, he said he would be willing to speak to Inslee or his staff on the issues surrounding school funding. While Dorn is on the ballot next month too, he carried more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary and appears on the ballot unopposed.

Here is the latest Inslee ad on the issue.

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