The Washington Education Association stepped up its campaign for school funding and closure of tax exemptions with a new radio ad based on a game-show quiz this week. The ad coincides with Wednesday’s passage of a bill in the House that would raise $905 million in tax revenue – arguably to improve school funding in response to a Supreme Court ruling. The measure moves to the Senate where a Republican-dominated majority coalition passed a budget without tax hikes.
The WEA, which represents some 82,000 teachers and other education system workers in K-12 schools and colleges, prefers the House approach to the extent that it puts at least $300 million more new money into schools than the Senate, including class-size reductions.
The union has been vocal on school spending issues this year. It was the second biggest spender on lobbying at the Legislature through March, as we reported Monday, and nearly $40,000 in radio ads about the school system’s bulging classrooms was a big part of that effort.
But today as the union holds its yearly representative assembly – or convention – at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue it is airing another round of ads. You can listen to the 60-second spot here.
The union’s RA events are sometimes significant. One year the union delegates voted to say they regretted endorsing Gov. Gary Locke in his 2000 campaign for re-election. But that won’t happen this year as Gov. Jay Inslee is working for the same goal of raising revenues and ending tax breaks. In fact, the Democratic governor is scheduled to speak on the Capitol steps at 10 a.m. Saturday during the WEA’s school-funding rally in Olympia.
In another year, the WEA’s assembly delegates voted to explore legal action that resulted in a lawsuit and last year’s decision by the Supreme Court in the McCleary case. The court said the state was failing to meet its constitutional duty to amply fund basic education, and it retained jurisdiction in the case to ensure the Legislature lived up to its obligations.
The assembly has plans to elect a new president, replacing Mary Lindquist. WEA spokesman Rich Wood said that this year’s assembly also has a proposal on pay and class size issues, and others may be submitted.
“(T)he debate is likely to include the possibility of ballot initiatives,” Wood said. “Educators are concerned by the Legislature’s failure to fund either of those.’’
So far this year, both the Democrat-authored House budget and Republican-flavored Senate budget omit cost-of-living pay raises for public school employees, but the House plan does put extra money into reducing the size of classrooms, which WEA says are the fourth largest in the country.
The House tax plan, which is similar but not identical to the tax plan outlined several weeks ago by Inslee, passed out of committee on a party-line vote, and it enjoyed support only from Democrats when voted on the floor. Five House Democrats from swing districts voted against the tax plan.
A controversial piece of the tax plan is a continuation of the business-occupations tax surcharge that was supposed to be a three-year temporary tax when enacted in 2010. The tax plan also closes an “accidental” tax break intended in 1949 for lumber bills but has been exploited by oil refineries.
Sunday is the final scheduled day for the 105-day regular session. Barring what Inslee described as “an inside straight” poker hand at the Legislature, a special session is in lawmakers’ destiny.