Most of you know this is a sticky wicket for me. I've frequently spoken out frequently against capital levies but not because they aren't needed, but because I don't think this district spends the money in either levy in a transparent manner. I'm also not sure of their priorities for spending and, given how much parent unhappiness there is out there on many issues, failing a capital levy might be a good way to get the district's attention.
Let's be clear on a few things.
- we need the Operations levy because it's 25% of the budget. Whether we all agree on how they are spending the dollars, losing 25% of the budget would bring the district - and all its schools - to their knees. We cannot have that happen.
- we need the BTA IV levy because of the high need for work on many, many buildings AND ongoing capacity management issues. However, the focus of the spending should be on those issues and I'm not sure the list of items does have that focus.
(And please don't say, "oh, we can get the district to change that focus AFTER they get the money." With levies, you are basically voting in a pot of money, not a list of projects. I have never seen the district change spending after they get the money.)
But I also want to point out a couple of things that you might not know about the district and its levies.
- They don't have to do them in Feb. as a stand-alone. They could easily be on the November ballot with all the other city/county/state/fed issues. But then they would have to compete for both the attention and the dollars of other initiatives. That's a valid concern for the district.
- The district also has another reason to run their own elections - fewer voters who vote. Now, they have to get a percentage of the last election in November but given how few voters there were for that one, well, it's not a big lift to get that percentage. In February voters are barely paying attention after the getting past the November elections and with the after-holiday fizz gone, and, of course, the noise coming from the looming presidential election.
Let's look at this at the 10,000 foot level. Should the district really need this kind of money? No, they shouldn't. The State should be paying for public education and all the costs that the legislature itself votes in via new education mandates.
I can see needing more dollars for technology, sports, and enhancements but that probably would never hit the level that we see the Operations levy. As well, if the district properly maintained the buildings, I doubt that the BTA levy would need to be so high.
Much of this need comes from the State not doing its job. (But I sometimes wonder if the day comes when McCleary IS fully enacted, how much the district would dial back those levies.)
Into the fray comes the treasurer of Washington state, Jim McIntire, with an op-ed in the Times about the state of our state when it comes to funding. (Bold mine.)
As your chief financial officer, I can tell you our tax system is failing. It’s grossly unfair to businesses and households, and doesn’t keep up with the economy.
This is why the Legislature shifted so much of the burden for funding education to local school levies. It’s mathematically impossible to sustain a quality education system with our shrinking tax base.
A capital-gains tax, Internet sales tax, carbon tax or a levy swap would not solve the problem. These options could expand our tax base, but they are not big enough to change the trend or shrink over time.
I propose amending the state constitution to:
• Eliminate the state property tax and cap local school levies to reduce property taxes by 20 percent to 30 percent
• Lower the state sales tax from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent
• Lower the business-and-occupation tax to cut service-business taxes by one-third and set all others at Boeing’s rate
• Create a flat 5 percent personal income tax dedicated to education
Yes, voters have rejected the income tax before, so we could protect taxpayers by including a constitutional requirement that the Legislature need a 60 percent majority vote in order to change the sales, income or B&O taxes. This is strong medicine, but a reasonable bargain for a tax base that grows with the economy.It's a start for a discussion and I applaud Mr. McIntire for knowing that the tax changes we need start with public education.
But given the lack of any real movement on the part of the legislature, I have to wonder if some are in a stalling game in order to run public schools into the ground. That's a great way to say the system is failing and we need "new and innovative" ideas. Like charter schools. Like vouchers for parents.
Something has to give and it needs to happen soon.