Op-ed by Rep. Bruce Chandler | Refusing to permanently deal with the ‘levy cliff’ is like punting on first down

Special to the Daily Sun

Next weekend is the Super Bowl. Imagine you're sitting with your friends, snacks and drinks at the ready. The Patriots kickoff and it's a touchback. And now, on first down with all the cameras, attention and spotlight on them, the Atlanta Falcons do the unthinkable: they punt on first down!

That's not unlike what happened this week in the Legislature as the state House of Representatives voted to extend the so-called levy cliff by another year. It wasn't bad policy, just bad timing. Extremely bad timing with, potentially, extremely unfortunate consequences: multiple special sessions.

Current law establishes a maximum amount for a school district's maintenance and operations levy. This is called the levy lid and was originally established to be 10 percent of a school district's basic education allocation for the school year.

In 2010, legislation was passed that temporarily raised the levy lid by four percent. This follows legislative action over the last 40 years that saw the levy lid grow from 10 percent all the way to the now 28 percent. Some schools are grandfathered in to the law and have levy lid rates even higher.

This continual reliance upon local levies to fund basic education is a key part of the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision. While many of us believe the court severely overstepped its authority in several of its rulings, suffice to say the court has asked the Legislature to define 'basic education' and then fully fund it.

Over the last four years, the Legislature has invested an additional $4.6 billion in K-12 education. These historic investments have been in smaller K-3 class size, full-day kindergarten, teacher raises, and increases to materials, supplies and operating costs.

An argument can be made that the final step to fulfilling our McCleary obligation is to end the overreliance upon local levies to fund basic education. This is what the Legislature is tasked to do during the 2017 session. In essence, we'll be solving the so-called levy cliff once and for all.

However, instead of leading efforts to reform the entire system and coming up with a permanent solution, the majority party in the House of Representatives has decided to delay. They have admitted defeat before the 105-day session was even 15 days old. They have abdicated their responsibility to the citizens of this state and are ensuring the recent history of multiple special sessions will continue once again.

I understand that local school districts need certainty as they start to budget for the next school year. And if a final McCleary solution isn't achieved before the end of the 2017 session, I think it's safe to say the Legislature will refuse to enforce the temporary aspect of the levy lid increase.

But by failing to implement this final piece of the McCleary puzzle, the Legislature is surrendering our responsibility to taxpayers, students, educators and school administrators. It's admitting the majority doesn't have a plan and has no intention of having one before the end of the 2017 legislative session.

Rather than try to move the McCleary ball down the field, the majority party in the House chose to punt on first down.

(Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee as is the lead budget negotiator for House Republicans.)

State Representative Bruce Chandler, 15th Legislative District
427B Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 339-5405 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000