WA schools chief wants sequester-like deadlines for school funding

Staff writerJanuary 9, 2014 

Randy Dorn

State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Randy Dorn speaks to the House Education Appropriations Committee about the WASL test in Olympia on Feb. 5, 2009. (AP File Photo)


The head of the state’s public school system thinks the Washington Legislature needs its own version of federal sequestration to prod itself into adequately funding public schools.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn said Thursday that he will propose legislation that would enact a sales tax increase and property tax increase starting in 2018. But the proposed tax hikes would take effect only if state lawmakers fail to adequately increase education funding before then, Dorn said.

“It’s kind of like a sequester kind of situation: “Hey if you don’t do this, then this (tax increase) goes into effect,” Dorn said Thursday. “Right now I don’t know if the Supreme Court has the teeth to make the Legislature do it. So I’m trying to make the Legislature do it.”

Dorn announced his idea just minutes after the state Supreme Court released an order saying the state Legislature hasn’t made quick enough progress toward meeting the requirements of the court’s 2012 McCleary decision. The landmark ruling ordered the Legislature to fully basic education in Washington by 2018.

Under Dorn’s proposal, the state sales tax would rise by 1 percent and the state property tax levy would nearly double in 2018 should lawmakers fail to increase education funding to a level that satisfies the Supreme Court. Dorn’s plan would simultaneously lower local property tax rates to shift the burden of funding basic school services to the state — a concept known as a levy swap.

Dorn said his proposal, if passed by the Legislature, would give lawmakers a firm deadline by which they must act. “It’s to themselves to say, if we don’t do this, this kicks in (starting) in 2018,” Dorn said.

Dorn said he’s proposing the idea because it worked to help Congress pass a budget — at least, sort of.

“They’re probably saying, ‘Oh, why would I do that to myself,” Dorn said Thursday. “But Congress did it to themselves and when they got in the box, they finally had to do something. Not that they moved a lot, but they did move.”

Dorn said he has yet draft formal legislation or find a lawmaker willing to sponsor the proposal. He said hopes to do both within the next couple of weeks.

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