3 Petitions Propose McCleary Solutions, From New Revenue To Ban On Spending

Aug 4, 2014

The Washington state Supreme Court on Monday received three separate petitions, each urging the court to clamp down and force lawmakers to fund public education in the upcoming legislative session.

The state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn penned one of the three amicus briefs, which come less than a month before justices will decide whether to take the unprecedented step of holding state lawmakers in contempt for failing to pump billions of new dollars into schools.

But the Legislature's lawyers say that failure stems from unresolved but "legitimate" disagreements over how to come up with the money.

Dorn: If Lawmakers Don’t Make Progress, Withhold Funding

The briefs each offer a sampling of possible solutions to the funding crisis. Dorn, in his brief, asked the court to require lawmakers to "make substantial progress" toward meeting McCleary's requirements — which, by one legislative estimate, would require at least an additional $3.3 billion in the next two-year budget — during the 2015 session.

If the Legislature fails to do that, Dorn's office argued, the court should bar lawmakers from allocating money to anything other than public schools or essential services.

"If they continue on that course, [lawmakers] won’t meet the 2018 deadline [laid out in McCleary],” Dorn said in a statement. "I’m asking the Court to hand the plaintiffs a hammer if enough isn’t accomplished in 2015. That hammer could stop spending that doesn’t apply to basic education."

The Legislature's lawyers have argued these kinds of penalties would be counterproductive, saying those who propose these sanctions "display no concern for the public value of other programs and services or for the citizens who rely on them."

"Accomplishing reform of this magnitude takes time," wrote the Legislature's lawyers in May. "But the Plaintiffs' repeated call for immediate compliance has proved a clever litigation strategy, because anything other than immediate compliance can be characterized as intentional delay."

‘No Other Solution Besides Raising Revenues’

In the remaining two briefs, a host of advocacy groups argued the Legislature shouldn't be allowed to cut from other services in order to meet the Supreme Court's goal.

"I don't think there's any way that we can meet the McCleary mandate and not raise revenue and not hold other important programs harmless. I think there's no other solution besides raising revenues, closing loopholes and finding some new resources," said Rachael Myers, executive director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, which joined one of the amicus briefs.

The other brief, filed by the left-leaning Washington State Budget and Policy Center and other groups, specifically asked the court to require lawmakers to pave the way for higher taxes or close loopholes in existing taxes to meet the court's order. If the Legislature fails, the group said, the court should hold the Legislature in contempt.

The filing took aim at a GOP lawmakers’ solution, which would have earmarked a portion of state revenue growth for education expenses. While Republican lawmakers see it as an option for meeting the McCleary mandate without betting on a tax increase, the brief said that option endangers other critical programs.

"The Court should reject enforcement measures that would force a revenue-neutral solution because such an approach necessarily requires cuts to parts of the budget," the document said.

The Supreme Court will hold a hearing in the case on Sept. 3.