Cutting corporate tax loopholes, exercising fiscal discipline, creating a public infrastructure bank and providing more choice schools were the ideas Eastside Senatorial candidates presented on how to fully fund education on Thursday.
Hosted by the Indian Association of Western Washington, the Eastside Candidates Forum was held at the North Bellevue Community Center. At the forum was Manka Dhingra and Jinyoung Lee Englund running for the 45th Legislative District Senate seat, and Patty Kuderer and Michelle Darnell running for the 48th Legislative District Senate seat.
In January 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in McCleary v. State that Washington failed to amply provide for the education of all children and that it is the Legislature’s job to fund it. In 2017, the Legislature temporarily lifted the 1 percent property tax cap and used a property tax levy swap. This will result in higher property taxes in King County to fund education throughout the state.
In light of this swap, the candidates were asked if they believe the education budget fully funds the 10 components of basic education, as well as if it’s sustainable, and, if not, what is their proposed solution.
Dhingra, prefers Democratic Party:
“Education is something that is so important, especially to our immigrant communities. Many of us came here because of the opportunity that education provides. And a fully funded education system is the foundation of our democracy and it is what gives every child and equal opportunity to succeed and this is why funding education is such a priority and I do not believe the Republican controlled Senate actually did a good job with the budget. They did provide more money than we’ve had in the past, but they did not solve McCleary. We have to do more and we have to do it in a way that makes sense. So the property tax increase, that was imposed by the property controlled senate, is the highest tax increase on property that we have seen in recent history. It’s not sustainable and it makes our district very very unaffordable so we have to fix that and I am committed to making sure that if and when elected that I will be working on rolling back the property tax increases. We have over 900 corporate tax loopholes in our current tax code and we have to make sure we are reviewing them and we are closing them. The same time the Republican controlled Senate imposed property tax increase, guess who got a great break? We have oil companies that are simply transporting their goods from North Dakota to our ports to sell it over seas, who got tax breaks. That’s not OK. We have to prioritize people, small businesses, and our children and that’s where it starts, by making sure that’s where our money is going to. We need accountability. We need transparency. It needs to be clear what money is coming in and where that money is going.”
Can you say, specifically, what your proposed solution is?
“It would be to take a look at our tax code, making sure we are cutting our corporate tax loopholes … there are some that have been there for the last 50 years that no one has combat and looked at. We are going to continue provide tax incentives, which we need to for some corporations because there needs to be this mutual beneficial contract, we need economy, we need businesses, but when we give them an incentive, the state, the people have to have a corresponding benefit. And we need to make sure we have automatic review of those exceptions. So let’s make sure we reviewed them every two years, every three years to make sure the intent behind that still exists and that’s how we end up cleaning up our tax code. I run two nonprofits, I run my own unit at the prosecutor’s office and that’s what transparency’s all about, is making sure we understand the money coming in and the money going out and making sure when that money’s going out, it’s going out to the things we prioritize.”
Will that money going out be sufficient to cover and adequately fund education?
“A lot of it will be. That’s a great place to start, but I think we may have to go beyond and that is where we have to look, everything needs to be on the table. When it comes to looking at the possibility of a carbon tax, looking at the possibility of redoing some of our tax structure. We have one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. That’s a fact and we have to start doing things to address this. A healthy economy starts by having a robust middle class and so we have to make sure our tax structure is conducive to growing that middle class and supporting education.”
Englund, prefers Republican Party:
“I’m a Washington kid who grew up in Washington schools and hope I’ll have the opportunity to serve Washington in this Washington job as a State Senator and here’s the thing, when I study our past budget and I study our education public policy history, our education funding history, this is what I have observed: Under one party government, we failed as a state to fund basic education. Hence, it triggered the McCleary decision and it was only under a balanced government where the House was run by Democrats and the Senate was run by Republicans by I think only one or two seats, not really a majority, a very slim one, that we actually balanced a budget and it was actually under the late Senator Andy Hill, whose seat we are running to finish that, he, as the chair of the budget committee saw that under one party control, they were using education as an excuse to create and raise more taxes and he said that’s not right. Education’s a priority so we have to exercise fiscal discipline and fund it first. Education deserves our first dollar and not the last dime and it was under Andy’s leadership and under a bipartisan agreement that we were able to increase education funding not once but twice. It was under this balance of power that we also lowered college tuition. Why? Because we exercised fiscal discipline and that’s the type of leadership that I want to continue on for our district and our state. Now, for the McCleary agreement, I have said over and over, and you can read it in the Seattle Times as well, but I would not have voted for it as the way it was written. Here’s why: Because in our district, Lake Washington School District is disproportionately hit by the levy swap. And I understand why they did it, because they were trying to create equity across our state because what our state, again, failed to fund education under one-party system, it created disparity. I’m one of the kids that used to be in the opportunity gap and by opportunity gap, I mean kids who are low income, kids who have to learn English as a second language, but also kids with special needs. And what we are learning in education, currently, the positive thing about the agreement is that now over half of Washington state’s operating budget is going towards education. That’s over $25 billion. So the question, at this point, is not do we have enough money. The question is how is the money being spent and are we targeting and are we being smart about how we spend the money to actually achieve better outcomes for kids.”
So what is your solution if you don’t think it’s adequate, especially since this was proposed by both parties?
“No, I’m not saying it’s not adequate. Here’s the thing, it was just agreed upon, so it’s going to take about two years for it to go into affect before we see if it’s adequate. If I’m elected, what I promise to do is to work actively not only with the OSPI and school districts, to find ways in which constituents, voters, can get eyes on how the money’s being spent and where it’s going. One of my ideas is to do an Act challenge and see if there are ways we can create transparency. Because I think if parents are equipped with knowing where the money’s being spent and how it’s being spent, then we can start looking at, do we actually need more money or can it be better spent the money that we have.”
“I think one positive thing about McCleary is it was a bipartisan agreement, if you look, Democrats also voted for this bill. That what they did was our state population is booming and our population is growing. Last year, our revenue grew by $3 billion and what they did was they allocated a chunk of that towards education. That’s called fiscal discipline. That’s called prioritizing the things that we care about and that’s what I support.”
Kuderer, Prefers Democratic Party:
“To answer the question, no we didn’t fully fund education. And no, it’s not sustainable. For one of the reasons that you mentioned, the temporary lifting of the property tax cap. That comes back in 5 years, so that means we’ll be back in this same mess again in five years and, you know, I have a legal background and if I were a betting person, I would bet at least 50/50 odds that the Supreme Court comes back and says we haven’t done our job, just based on the McCleary decision. The second piece is we also didn’t do our job when we failed to pass a capital budget. In that capital budget was $1 billion for school construction. That again, I think the Supreme Court, that raises the odds. I think you go way over the 50 percent and they’ll come back and say you have not fully funded education. We have not found a sustainable mechanism. The reality is the property tax is not a sustainable way to fund education. It is a regressive tax, I did vote against the bill for several reasons. The first is the gimmick with the temporary lifting of the property tax cap. But also there was this perverse consequence of a property tax cut to the tune of $371 million to large corporations to the state. In fairness to them, they didn’t ask for it. Again, it’s the perverse consequence of poorly drafted legislation. Right? So what would any rational person do, but put an amendment on the bill to recapture that $371 million a year so that we could lower the amount of property taxes we were actually asking everybody else to pay and that failed in a divided legislature. The Senate Republicans killed that amendment and you could talk about one party rule, we haven’t had that in how many years? Seven? And what we have seen is this continual clogging of the system and a backlog of really good policy that gets left on the cutting room floor time and time again. In under a divided Legislature for the first time, we didn’t pass a capital budget. So, what would I do to solve the problem? I would start by recapturing that $371 million a year because they don’t need a property tax cut. That’s a ridiculous thing to allow to go forward. So I would do that. I would also create a public infrastructure bank. Now, stay with me. Now what I would do with that, that would be a bank that would be set up to essentially self fund our own infrastructure projects. That would take some of the pressure off the general fund where our education is funded. We would do low cost loans to cities, counties, the state, public utility districts. Far less than what we’re paying Wall Street now to borrow the money. It would essentially be a self-lending program. We would pay ourselves a lower interest rate but it would be self sustaining, the operating costs would come out of the profits that were generated and also we would eventually have enough money to continue funding our own infrastructure improvements.”
Would that be enough to adequately fund education?
“It would be part of the solution. The other part is we’re going to have to fix the property tax fiasco this next session and by doing that, you’re going to have to substitute a different tax. I am for more progressive taxes, either a carbon tax or a capital gains tax. The capital gains tax that was proposed by the House would have raised a billion dollars per biennium and that would have affected less than 1 percent of the population in our state. In the 48th Legislative District, that would have affected less than 6 percent of the population. If you look at what the property tax is going to do, it’s going to affect 100 percent of the tax payers and that includes folks on a fixed income, those who are dealing with developmentally disabled kids, our Veterans, people who can least afford to pay it.”
Darnell, prefers Libertarian Party:
“I agree we need to do something about our education system. We’ve been talking about McCleary, well I’ve run three times so I could say I’m running a ‘I told you so’ campaign. We’re still talking about McCleary. I think a lot of the problem is the polarization in Olympia. It seems to me we’re talking about tax, tax, tax and how we’re going to fund this. I was actually at one of the hearings for McCleary and I remember the judge asking well what does ample mean? No one seems to be able to explain what the word ample means and I, frankly, think no one really knows, so that’s why I come from a little bit different perspective. I think they have gone a long way in addressing the funding side. I’d like to be a voice for a different perspective. What are we doing with the money? When I’m talking to teachers when I’m out door belling, what I’m hearing is the money is circulating at the top. It’s not making it into the classroom. One teacher was telling me she’s spending two hours a day because she has to comply with these top down mandates with common core and so on and so forth. We’re concerned about the automation that might becoming our direction. We increased the minimum wage, which increases the cost of labor, therefore companies start to automate. Our kids are not keeping up. Our education system is not keeping up. What is the problem? The system is not incentivized for excellence. Basically the system, and I would argue the WEA, is holding our teachers, our students, our parents and our communities hostage here. With more money, more money but we are not addressing the systemic problems in the system that are failing our kids. Most people don’t know we spend over $14,000, probably around $15,000 now, federal, state and local per child per year. One in four kids doesn’t graduate. We need to address that. What would I do? I would think about what can we do to incentivize the system towards excellence. I think choice. I think we need to talk about choice, charter and vouchers. I know it’s scary. It’s a place we haven’t been, but we need to talk about it. And I want to be that counter weight, that counter balance. I’m not talking about tipping over the apple cart over night. I just want to bring a different perspective to the table because as I talk to teachers, students, and parents, and I had four kids go through the system, it’s more than a money problem and there’s plenty of folks up in Olympia that are more than happy to take your money out of your wallet and take money out of your community. I want to bring a different voice to Olympia.”
Ample is defined in the ruling of McCleary as more than adequate and fully sufficient.With these options you’re proposing like the choice, charter and voucher, would that not just take out more money from funding available for education?
“Well let me spell it out to you this way as a hypothetical. That $14,000, hypothetically, if you took $14,000 from federal, state, and local and you gave and $7,000 of that followed the backpack, for example, that family can choose a public school, a private school, a charter school where that child can go wherever. $7,000 is still with the school system and they’re not educating the child but now they have an incentive because they want the other $7,000 back, right? So it improves the public school because they have more money and they’re not educating the child and it creates this incentive and competition and choice and empowerment and families will be more engaged in education because of choice. They get to have a voice in their children’s education and they’re not just told you’re going to go to XYZ school, school district whatever.”