Last Wednesday, the newest state revenue projections was released, and the Senate Democrats are happy to find that the December 2018 revenue forecast remained almost unchanged. The revenue update projected only $35 million less over the next budget cycle, a fraction of one percent of the state’s total revenue. This means that the state should be in a better position to fund programs that are of the highest priority. The Senate Republicans’ budget proposal held extra money back in case of a poor revenue forecast, and as this is no longer the case, they should release that extra money back into the budget so we can raise teacher salaries and fund public schools sufficiently.
Republicans have been quick to tout our large reserves of over $2 billion and how we must concentrate on keeping that number high. In fact, the Senate Republicans budget proposal includes a reserve that is 12.75% of total appropriations, or almost $2.2 billion. The House of Representatives’ budget didn’t even have a reserve this high; proposing only about $1.9 billion in reserves. To keep a reserve percentage this high is an irresponsible use of taxpayer money. If we were to limit reserves to 11.5 percent of total appropriations, we would free up $300 million in usable funds!
Republicans have also said that we need a balanced budget and large reserves because a recession is imminent. In fact, State Senator Eric Bassler (R-Washington) said last week that we will most certainly have a recession within two budget cycles. This could not be further from the truth. Economist Tom Jackson gave a report to the State Budget Committee on the projection of the state and country’s economies, and indicated that there is no projected recession in the near future. Our current reserves are enough for any potential downturns. We should not be unnecessarily adding to our massive yearly balances on the backs of teachers and working families. It’s time to put a portion of these extra reserve funds back into our public schools and directly in to the hands of our teachers.
Senate Democrats have already laid out a plan that is ready to be included in the state’s next two-year budget that would directly give our teachers immediate pay raises. The revenue forecast showed that we don’t need any cuts to current programs, and the Senate Democrats teacher salary plan pays for itself with no new taxes. The revenue used from our plan will fund an Educator Salary Grant that will give teachers a five percent raise. This salary grant will not disrupt any collective bargaining rights of local districts but will go directly to boosting every single teacher, social worker and school counselor’s base pay. The legislature is already delegated the authority to determine school funding and the restrictions therein. Appropriating money directly to teachers is no different and does not overstep our legislative duties.
So what next? Now that we know we have the money, it’s time for the legislature to give raises directly to teachers and make sure increases to public school funding are greater than the rate of inflation. We have the money. It’s time to use it to support our most important priorities.