The 2014 election results are all but certified, so we now have a better idea about the political landscape going into the 2015 legislative session. The second elephant in the room—after McCleary, that is—may be Initiative 1351 (and how we’re going to pay for it), but what the election results reflect, more than anything, is how critical a bipartisan approach will be in the coming legislative session.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate’s majority parties’ holds are slim in their respective chambers, and all parties will need to have a high level of discipline to get very much done during this critical session.
The overarching question, of course, is how we are going to pay for education funding. Initiative 1351 has redefined “basic education,” and the four-year balanced budget legislation requires that the Legislature find funding for McCleary and I-1351 through the next four years—amounting to nearly $7 billion above and beyond current education funding levels.
How do you find that kind of money? Well, the current revenue structure won’t get us there. So, we either need to restructure how revenue (read: taxes) is collected in the state or cut other programs.
If we look to history, we see that legislation with bipartisan support tends to be the strongest and most likely to succeed.
Prior to 2013, the last statewide revenue package that was sustained was the last transportation package in 2002. That effort had strong bipartisan support and it withstood a challenge by Tim Eyman. By contrast, other efforts to garner revenue via initiative (income tax) or taxes on candy and bottled water (Democrats acting along party lines in the legislature) ultimately went down in flames.
Looking toward the 2015 legislative session, I hope that legislators on both sides of the aisle recognize the opportunity they have. While the landscape could not be more challenging and complicated, it presents immense opportunity. For the serious-minded legislators, the opportunity to secure an agreement that serves our students and our state for a generation awaits. A successful, sustainable solution to our funding problems would be stuff of political legend. In order to get a deal, everyone has to be willing to come to the table with something and be willing to give something.
The League of Education Voters knows this well. In 2012, we supported the sunset of one of our principal political achievements, our class-size initiative, I-728, in order to empower the Legislature to find a reasonable way to amply, equitably, and stably fund public education. Both Democrats and Republicans will need to ultimately be prepared to break from party political considerations to reach a meaningful deal.
As one legislator said to me last week, “A meaningful deal will be complicated. I know that I will love 25 percent of a deal, support 50 percent of it, and absolutely hate 25 percent of it. We all have to be willing to give up something of value to get a deal for the greater good.”
As we head into the 2015 legislative session, I urge our newly elected, re-elected, and continuing legislators to keep the art of compromise in mind in order to find ample, equitable, and—most of all—sustainable funding for public education in our state.
Frank Ordway is Government Relations Director at the League of Education Voters. Join Frank for a preview of the 2015 legislative session on January 8, 2015, through our Lunchtime LEVinar series.