In the weeks before she leaves office, Gov. Chris Gregoire will propose a new source of tax revenue for public schools, she told reporters today, while dismissing alternatives pitched by the candidates to succeed her as unrealistic in the short term.
She made the comments after announcing a new initiative to help elderly and poor patients.
The Democratic governor said the math doesn’t work on Republican Rob McKenna‘s plan to limit the growth of noneducation spending, and that the plan by her choice for governor, Democrat Jay Inslee, will take time to bear fruit — with little or no immediate effect on the 2013-2015 budget she’s now writing. Nor does Gregoire think the answer can be found in eliminating tax breaks as both candidates say they would do; she has tried that without much success.
By Gregoire’s reckoning, her successor and lawmakers will need to find about $1 billion in those first two years to meet the requirements of the McCleary court decision mandating ample and dedicated school funding, which is on top of a two-year shortfall of several hundred million dollars.
Gregoire said she would propose a new source of revenue to fill that gap but hasn’t yet figured out what that will be, only that it should grow over time and would need to go to a public vote, based on both candidates’ vows to avoid tax increases.
She acknowledged it’s not a good time to raise taxes but said she sees no other way to find the needed money.
Gregoire did say nearly $500 million could be raised in 2013-2015 if states can persuade the federal government to match up the rules for taxes on Internet sales with those at physical businesses. McKenna has mentioned that as a possible help.
And she backed up Inslee’s contention that state government can save money up front — $100 million, she said — by accepting federal money to fully implement President Barack Obama‘s health care law.
Gregoire said she has been ramping up the use of lean-management techniques pioneered by Toyota, but as a way to cope with a shrinking state workforce and increasing demand for services — not as a way to save further money, which is Inslee’s pitch.
“Maybe in the future there will be a different result, but right now it’s coping with the dramatic cuts,” she said.
At any rate, she said, it won’t raise significant money for the 2013-2015 budget. Neither, she said, will changes Inslee says he’ll make to the ways Washington pays for health care, much of which dovetails with her efforts to move away from fee-for-service medical spending.
“We’ve made considerable progress, but it’s relative,” she said.
“So I’m encouraged by the talk of, you know, ‘we’re going to drive down costs and drive up quality’ that I’m hearing on the campaign trail,” she said. “It just won’t happen overnight.”
Still, she reiterated that Inslee is her candidate and didn’t rebuke him for downplaying her efforts. She said one of them is about to learn the hard reality.
“On Jan. 16 at 12:01,” she said, “welcome to my world.”