Justice Delayed is Justice Denied…
Our Supreme Court refuses to enforce our State Constitution… and turns their backs on one million children
David Spring M. Ed. Director, Fair School Funding Coalition
On Thursday January 5, 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court issued an opinion in the NEWS Education Funding Lawsuit, essentially upholding the Trial Court decision that the State legislature has failed to meet its Constitutional “Paramount Duty” to amply fund our public schools. Education Funding advocates predictably hailed the Court’s ruling as a major victory. In fact, however, the ruling was a severe defeat for our State’s one million school children.
The problem is that while the lower court severely criticized the Education Reform Act (HB 2261), specifically noting that it was unacceptable for the legislature to delay school funding for 6 more years to 2018 and demanding that the legislature comply with the Constitution as soon as possible, the Supreme Court seemed fine with HB 2261 which allows the Legislature to kick the can down the road for six more years and allows the legislature to knowingly break the law by failing to comply with our State Constitution for another 6 years. The Supreme Court claimed it would be too difficult for the legislature to comply with the law in a single year. In fact, if the legislature wanted to, they could solve the problem in a single day.
On a personal note, my daughter is a 6th Grader. She will have graduated by the time the Supreme Court demands that the legislature comply with our Constitution. But there is a worse danger than the legislature not complying until 2018. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Thirty years ago, the Supreme Court also stated in a virtually identical ruling that the legislature failed to adequately fund public schools. Since then, the legislature has conducted more than one dozen studies – none of which came up with any actual funding for our public schools. They all kicked the can down the road. Like all the earlier “reform” bills, HB 2261 again kicked the can down the road by appointing yet another commission to study the problem. It is therefore likely that the legislature will not comply with HB 2261 in 2018. Instead, they will do what they have done countless times in the past- they will appoint another committee to study the problem and kick the can further down the road..
Naturally, there will be another lawsuit. Then the Court will again agree that the legislature is failing to comply with the Constitution. Then the Court will give the legislature yet another 10 years to comply with the Constitution. This is not leadership – this is fraud. It is actively participating in an illegal theft.
Imagine treating a bank robber this nicely. After all, the legislature is stealing billions from our children to give billions in tax breaks to wealthy corporations like Microsoft – who rewards their corporate legislators by paying for their re-election campaigns. Anyway, imagine a bank robber stealing more than one billion dollars per year from our State’s one million school children – robbing our children of their future – and forcing them to endure the largest class sizes and lowest school funding in the nation.
Now imagine our Supreme Court agreeing that this robbery is against the law. But then only asking the legislature to stop robbing from our children 6 years from now. This is a great deal for the bank robbers. They get to continue stealing from our children for 6 more years!!! The real question is how much longer the voters will put up with this open law breaking.
In response, the Governor said she wants to protect corporate tax breaks by raising sales taxes on the poor and middle class by a billion dollars. State Representative Ross Hunter, a former Microsoft Manager, wants to protect corporate tax breaks by raising property taxes on middle class homeowners by a billion dollars. Keep in mind that our State already has the most unfair tax structure in America. Our middle class pay State taxes at a rate which is 20% above the national average – while our children attend schools funded at a rate which is 20% to even 30% below the national average. Both of these regressive tax proposals would make our unfair tax structure even more unfair, And by robbing the middle class – also suck one billion dollars out of local communities – costing thousands of local jobs.
The problem is NOT that our middle class is paying too little in taxes. The problem is that the very wealthy in our State are not paying hardly any taxes – less than one third of the national average. Ditto with wealthy corporations like Microsoft. Check this out. Last year, Microsoft had record sales of $73 billion – on which they made a record profit of $23 billion. Had they paid a one and one half percent Washington State Business and Occupation tax, like any other respectable business, they would have paid one billion in State taxes. This would not have harmed Microsoft because they could have deducted their State taxes from their federal taxes.
But instead, since 1999, our legislature has effectively exempted Microsoft from paying State taxes by going along with a charade whereby Microsoft evades paying taxes by claiming that they are really located in Nevada – a State with no Business and Occupation tax.
As a consequence of this corporate welfare, our State loses one billion per year in revenue (nearly all of the entire budget shortfall) which forces schools to fire about 10,000 teachers and forces class sizes to be way higher than the national average.
Even worse, nearly all of this billion dollars per year in windfall corporate welfare goes to only three people – all of whom are billionaires and who are already evading paying State taxes by living in a State without an income tax on high earners. Our legislature is literally sacrificing the futures of one million school children just so three billionaires can buy bigger boats.
Our Supreme Court may be okay with continuing this charade for 6 more years. But I am not. I have a better idea. Instead of increasing the tax burden on families already close to bankruptcy, we should demand that the legislature roll back all corporate tax breaks passed since 1996. This was the last year school funding in our State was above the national average. This simple act would generate several billion dollars per year. And allow us to restore school funding and class sizes back to the national average – which is where school funding was in our State when the massive corporate crime wave took over Olympia.
I urge you to email your legislators. Let them know that you are opposed to any tax increases on the poor or the middle class. We are already paying far more than our fair share!!! Let them know that it is time for wealthy corporations and billionaires to start paying their fair share of State taxes. Let them know that it is time to stop making excuses and stop hiding behind Tim Eyman. Our State Constitution gives the legislature the power and the duty to repeal corporate tax breaks by a simple majority vote.
And if the legislature fails to roll back the massive corporate welfare this year – then it will be up to the voters themselves to throw the bums out. That too can be done by a simple majority vote. For more information on the real problems with school funding and our State Budget, please visit my website: realwashingtonstatebudget.info.
David Spring M. Ed.
Director Fair School Funding Coalition