Ladies and Gentlemen, Our Paper of Record:

I honestly have no idea what this editorial is trying to say:

THE Legislature already faces the difficult job writing a balanced, education-focused budget when it reconvenes in January. That job got harder two weeks ago with an $80 million bill sent, as if in a time machine, from 2003.

According to a state Supreme Court ruling, the bill is owed to about 22,000 contracted in-home care providers for the state Department of Social and Health Services’ clients with disabilities.

[...] In this case, the state Supreme Court adds to an already hefty bill it imposed in the education-funding McCleary decision, which is coming due. While the court’s job is not to budget, it also does not operate in a vacuum.

Feel free to read all the in-between parts, but it’s not going to help. The Seattle Times editorial board is arguing what…? That the Supreme Court shouldn’t enforce an $80 million judgment against the state? That the Supreme Court shouldn’t enforce McCleary? I presume there’s an opinion in here somewhere.

No, it’s not the court’s job to write the budget. But if the state lacks the financial resources necessary to meet its legal obligations—as determined by the highest court in the state—shouldn’t our editorialists be urging the legislature to write a budget that raises the revenue necessary to obey the law, rather than chastising the court for, um, something?

I dunno, just seems to me like the responsible thing to do.

Comments

  1. 1

    some guy spews:

    Something I’m not clear on, what happens when the legislature fails to pass a budget that complies with McCleary? Do they start arresting legislators? What power does the supreme court have to enforce this?

  2. 2

    Travis Bickle spews:

    Or, perhaps, the legislature might instead prioritize its spending to free up a funding source to obey the law.

    Solutions don’t always have to involve making forcing people one doesn’t like to pay more money.

  3. 3

    spews:

    @2 Okay, what do you recommend cutting? Come on, prioritize.

    The only suggestion for cuts I ever hear coming from the Seattle Times ed board is to cut the pay of government workers … who already earn considerably less than the would in the private sector. (Also, they want to cut pensions, but that won’t actually save the state any money.)

    But give me some ideas of where you’re going find the several billion dollars a year in savings necessary to fully fund McCleary?

  4. 4

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  5. 5

    Travis Bickle spews:

    @3

    Somehow the $80M question at hand morphed into another issue, I see. While you’re at it why don’t you ask what my solution might be to ensure a lasting world peace?

    My first response to the education funding shortfall is, see @1. What would happen? What would happen if, say, the state of WA was ordered to raise taxes AND to reduce pensions (like PERS 1 for instance) in order to force an unmet order to be satisfied? (I guess while I’m at it I could ask what would have happened if Gore hadn’t conceded after the Bush v. Gore decision – SCOTUS said it was wrong (7-2) and fix it (5-4), but left no prescription as to how to fix it in the extremely short amount of time left. What if Gore’s response was “Fuck you, I won.”?)

    I can see the WA supreme court ordering a flat tax and a small cut to state pensions. So that’s my solution, since you asked. A flat tax, ordered by the court, would be simpler to enact and all the Dem AG has to do is not appeal. Of course, any citizen could appeal as we all would have standing to do so, I assume.

  6. 7

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @5 “While you’re at it why don’t you ask what my solution might be to ensure a lasting world peace?”

    Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? Empty suits like you claim the state should comply with McCleary with the revenue it has, but when someone asks you to specify which programs to take the money from, you have no answer.

    I’m somewhat familiar with the state budget, so I can actually tell you where the money would have to come from.

    First, roughly half the state budget goes to education. Like most states, K-12 education in Washington is paid for primarily with property taxes. Unlike any other state, we funnel these taxes through the state budget before distributing them to school districts, which makes our state budget look twice as large as it actually is. No other state counts local school funding as part of their state budget. If you remove that, what’s left is our actual state budget.

    The actual state budget contains three big budget items and a lot of little ones. One of the big items and many of the little ones are funded with dedicated taxes that by law can’t be used for anything else. The big item is transportation, which is funded by fuel and excise taxes. An example of a little item funded by dedicated taxes is the state gambling commission, which regulates the gambling industry, and its budget is entirely funded by user fees paid by the gambling commission.

    So, if you want to raid the General Fund to get more money for K-12 education, there’s really only two budgets big enough to get that kind of money. They are DSHS and Corrections. Assuming you don’t want to close our prisons and release all the incarcerated murderers, rapists, arsonists, robbers, and child molesters to the streets, you have to rob DSHS to get your education money.

    While superficially tempting, raiding DSHS’s funding is problematical in several ways, chief among them the fact that a lot of DSHS’s money comes from federal matching funds the state doesn’t get if it doesn’t use that money for the federally-prescribed purposes and match it with state money.

    For example, the largest single item in DSHS’s budget is Medicaid expenditures for nursing home care for indigent elderly. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you’re some sort of inhuman beast who is willing to throw all those old people out on the curb, so you can use the Medicaid nursing home funds for education. (In Washington, as elsewhere in the U.S., about two-thirds of all nursing home revenues come from Medicaid, about 2% from Medicare, and the rest is mostly private insurance or patient pays.) If you do that, you don’t get the federal contribution to the Medicaid nursing home budget, you get only the state contribution, which is several hundred million a year but less than you need.

    Okay, so now let’s say you also divert the #2 item in DSHS’s budget, the non-nursing-home Medicaid expenditures. This pays for the medical care that welfare recipients and disabled people get, and is also a federally-matched program. If you take this money, too, you now have not only tens of thousands of elderly people who have moved from nursing homes to emergency rooms, but you also have hundreds of thousands of other indigent people, mostly children, also clogging emergency rooms. In this scenario, you can expect the cost of your own health insurance to skyrocket, because the only place health providers can get money to pay for the care they’re required by law to provide to non-paying patients is from paying patients and their insurance companies.

    If you try to dig deeper into DSHS’s budget, you run into problems, not only because the non-Medicaid budgets are much smaller and wouldn’t produce meaningful amounts of money, but also because a lot of that is federal money you can’t take for education.

    For example, the vocational rehabilitation portion of DSHS’s budget is 100% federally funded and by federal law can only be used for vocational rehabilitation. The child support enforcement program is roughly 85% federally funded, and federal law requires all 50 states to have such programs, so you can’t get rid of that program and even if you fire 95% of the staff and scale it back to almost nothing, the amount of state money you get by doing that is almost nothing.

    It’s pretty much the same story across the gamut of other DSHS programs. Cut the program, and you’re either violating a legal mandate or the funding source goes away, or both. Believe me, the legislature doesn’t like spending money on DSHS, and already eliminated whatever could be cut from DSHS’s budget years ago. There’s nothing left to grab.

    The truth is that years of recession and decades of structural budget shortfalls caused by our state’s dysfunctional tax system have led a succession of legislatures to cut the state budget to the bone, and there’s nothing left that can be readily cut or diverted to education, or they would have done it already.

    Goldy knows this. When he asked you to explain where the additional funding for education would come from, if not revenue increases, he knew you wouldn’t be able to answer. You’ve been caught and nailed to the wall, my friend.

    The reality is that McCleary won’t be complied with, and there’s not much the court can do about it. I’ve lived in Washington State since the 1960s, and the state supreme court has ordered the legislature to fully fund K-12 education on multiple occasions. None of those court orders have been complied with, and they never will be, because the court doesn’t have authority to raise taxes or shift funds within the state budget. We will never get tax reform in this state, because the citizens won’t allow it, because the powerful wealthy interests have used their clout to put taxing the rich out of reach, and the ordinary citizens are already being taxed by our horribly regressive state tax system as much as they can stand. So things will continue as they always have. Schools will have to get essential funding from local voter levies, the state will continue to violate McCleary and its predecessors because the legislature’s hands are tied, and the schools will muddle through as best they can with the inadequate resources they are given, just like every other part of state government has to.

  7. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @5 “I can see the WA supreme court ordering a flat tax and a small cut to state pensions.”

    No, you can’t see that, because (1) the Washington supreme court can’t make the legislature impose or raise taxes, and (2) state spending on pensions is zero, so there’s no pension budget to cut.

    It’s true there are state pensioners who receive state pensions from a state-run pension fund, but that’s all private money. The state pension system is funded entirely by state employees through payroll deductions and investment returns on that money. There is no taxpayer money involved. State pension funds are private property, held in trust for the pensioners, and the state can’t legally or morally spend that money.

  8. 9

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    There used to be a small state budget item that provided COLAs to members over age 65 of the older state pension plans (PERS 1, TRS 1, etc.). The legislature enacted this in the 1990s, funded it from tax revenues, and it was basically a gift to the retirees, because it wasn’t a vested right and was done voluntarily by the legislature. But this COLA, and the tax funding for it, were repealed by the legislature during the budget crunches of the Great Recession. It was the only taxpayer-funded benefit that state retirees got, and it doesn’t exist anymore, so there’s nothing to talk about there.

  9. 10

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @5 “AND to reduce pensions (like PERS 1 for instance)”

    Basically the answer to this is PERS 1 pensions are private property, and if the court can order the state to take PERS 1 pensions, then the court also can — and should — order the state to take your bank accounts. If we’re not going to respect pensioners’ property rights, then there’s no reason to respect your property rights, either.

  10. 11

    Better spews:

    Nice set of posts Rabbit. They make sense, not that it matters to republicans. It will be interesting to see if he has a valid counter argument.

  11. 12

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @11 No, he doesn’t. If he did, the Republicans in the legislature would have implemented it long ago. Back when Dan Evans was governor.

  12. 13

    spews:

    @5 You got schooled by the Rabbit! How does it feel?

    Again, now that you’ve been informed about the way the budget works, what would you free up to meet McCleary without raising additional tax revenue?

  13. 14

    cantbeme spews:

    Rabbit, great series of posts. Sadly, most legislators don’t understand the state budget as well as you do. You could also transfer money to K-12 from the higher ed system but that would require the wholesale closure of several 4 year institutions or most of the 2 year schools and I’d personnally start closing in Republican districts. As for the court, you are correct that they can’t/won’t order the legislature to enact a tax, but they could/should order the State Treasuer to not make transfers of various revenues directed by the Legislature until some court set threshold of revenue for schools is met.