No progress on education funding as 2017 Washinton Legislature opens, but Inslee hopeful

OLYMPIA. Wash. -- Even before the gavel dropped marking the start of the Washington Legislature's 2017 session, the controversy over education funding had lawmakers pointing fingers.

“I feel as Democrats we were organized, spent a lot of time coming up with a plan, it’s hard to compromise when one side doesn’t do their job,” said state Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes.

“The Democrats are using education as a way to get their dreams passed ... an income tax, capital gains tax, more taxes on energy,” said state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

A special task force created to come up with solutions could not agree on any recommendations Monday. It's the last time the task force will meet.

It’s another setback for Gov. Jay Inslee, who is proposing a nearly $4 billion package to fully fund public education.

In his proposal, Inslee seeks more than $4 billion in new revenue, with a majority of it — about $3.9 billion — dedicated to education-related costs.

The new revenue he seeks includes:

—An increase in the Business and Occupation (B&O) tax on services provided by accountants.

—A carbon tax that would charge the state's emitters $25 per metric ton starting in 2018, raising $2 billion, of which $1 billion would go toward the education plan

—A 7.9 percent capital gains tax on earnings from the sale of stocks, bonds and other assets above $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for those who file jointly.

“We need to get this job done this year, our kids need it, I’m confident that we can do this but we need Republicans to come up with a proposal,” Inslee said.

Inslee told Q13 News on Monday that a tax increase is necessary, saying the state cannot cut funding for things like mental health and veterans.

But Ericksen said his constituents can't afford what's on the table, saying it would cost a family of four an extra $4,000 in new taxes.

“Governor Inslee doesn’t have a plan, he has a tax increase,” Ericksen said.

Many Republicans say they need more time to study where to get the money.

“We have $738 million in marijuana revenues that we didn’t have before,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

As lawmakers battle over education, homelessness and affordable housing will also be a focus this session.

“To make sure our city has the infrastructure we need to respond to the number of people moving into Seattle,” Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, said.

First-time Rep. Macri wants to address the problem of homelessness on a statewide level.

Other lawmakers say better mental health care is a big part of the solution.

“We have been under-funding mental health issues,” Rivers said.

Rivers added that the state needs more beds for the mentally ill and better health care costs, especially for the middle-class seeking help.

“If you are poor, you are in great shape. If you are rich, you are in great shape. But all the people in the middle, we are the ones who are really struggling,” Rivers said.

Other issues stirring debate early in the session are the use of drones versus privacy as well as groups hoping to clamp down on oil trains in Washington.

“Some people want to use it to stop oil trains. I would encourage them to stop driving if they want to stop oil trains,” Ericksen said.

In addition to oil trains, other hot topics include the foster care system and use of force when it comes to police.