And yet, as I review the updated financing plan in more depth, I continue to grapple on a deeply personal level with the genuine burden the Sound Transit proposal places on public education. It is unsettling at best to serve as a state legislator while Olympia is under a contempt order by the Supreme Court for failing to meet the state’s paramount duty of fully funding public education. This is historic and unprecedented and we are recreating our educational finance plan for the next generation in real time. After putting an additional $2.5 billion into K-12 funding over the last three legislative sessions since the McCleary ruling, Democrats and Republicans are struggling to find a final path forward for the last $3.5 billion approximately. It’s virtually impossible to reach that level of new education funding without reform to the state property tax and local school levies. The transportation finance plan makes that difficult but essential project dramatically more complex.Robert Cruickshank replies to Carlyle in this piece from The Urbanist. (partial)
As a state legislator with a passion for building the best education system in the nation, I am unsettled that the package consumes the oxygen in the room on taxes for virtually all other public services at all levels of government for years to come. The plan moves to among the very highest sales tax in the nation along with a major property tax increase. We need to be honest that the ability of cities, counties and the state to utilize the sales tax in the future as a new revenue source is effectively ended with this plan. The impact on property taxes at the city and county level is more uncertain but clearly substantial. In economic terms, the opportunity costs are extraordinary for years to come.
As a parent who lives in the 36th District, and therefore a constituent of State Senator Reuven Carlyle, I share his concern that Washington State be able to fully fund our public schools as well as address the climate crisis by building rail to connect our community to so many others in the Puget Sound region. That is also why I do not agree with his assertion that passage of Sound Transit 3 would jeopardize funding for our public schools. It does no such thing. Puget Sound voters should reject this false choice. We can both vote for ST3 and have fully funded public schools.Cruickshank gets to the crux of the matter
The legislature has a wide range of options available to find the money it needs to fund our public schools. They could close billions of dollars in corporate tax loopholes, and Sen. Carlyle has been a leader in addressing those unaccountable tax breaks. They could tax the capital gains and incomes of wealthy Washington residents. They could pass a carbon tax and dedicate some of the revenues to schools.
Raising the sales and property tax are also options available to the legislature, even if ST3 is approved by voters. A higher sales tax has been the topic of some discussion among legislators, but the more fully fleshed out proposals have involved the state property tax. This issue is at the center of Sen. Carlyle’s complaint, so it is worth further discussion.
By approving ST3, voters do not prevent the legislature from using the state property tax to fund public education. It is possible that passage of ST3 makes it more difficult for legislators to cut an easy deal regarding the state property tax. But that is a political issue and not a policy issue. It’s hardly the same thing as suggesting ST3 would come at the expense of our public schools. It simply doesn’t.Food for thought.
Sen. Carlyle mentioned the 1% annual limit in the rate of property tax increase. That limit does not exist because of Tim Eyman—his initiative imposing a 1% limit was thrown out by the State Supreme Court. The legislature itself adopted that limit in 2007, the year before Sen. Carlyle was elected to the State House. That limit has eviscerated funding for local governments, and the legislature is free to amend or eliminate that limit if they choose. The legislature may have to do so anyway in order to make a levy swap work