Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee has a crafty new speaking point; he used it in last week's debate, he's hyping it in TV spots, the Inslee campaign even developed a website all about it, and the Democrats are using it in mailings.
Slyly turning the tables on any generic charges from his Republican opponent, Rob McKenna, that Inslee is bound to raise taxes, Inslee has been pointing out that McKenna is actually, and literally, proposing to raise taxes.
The claim, while technically true, is misleading.
McKenna has embraced a proposal that both Democratic house ways and means chair Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48, Medina) and Republican senate ways and means chair Sen. Joe Zarelli (R-18, Ridgefield) have put on the table: A property tax levy swap to meet the Washington State Supreme Court's order that the state stop shirking its responsibility to fund K-12 schools. (The state currently spends about $6 to $6.5 billion a year.)
The idea is this: The state, which has to find an additional $1.6 billion a year to meet the court's mandate, would take over a portion of local property taxes that currently go into K-12 schools. By translating the local taxes into state taxes, some people would pay more than they pay now (people in wealthier school districts) and some people would pay less (people in poorer districts).
So, yes, some people's taxes would go up, and Inslee's glommed on to that. (More people's would go down, though: about 53 percent of taxpayers would see lower school taxes, according to the proposal Inslee is slamming.)
By taking over about $1 billion in local funding (Rep. Hunter's proposal), the state would only need to find another $600 million to meet the court's demand.
Yes, $600 million is a lot, but it puts McKenna $1 billion closer than Inslee to meeting the court's edict.
One question for the Inslee campaign: When it comes to education funding, you're starting out $1 billion behind McKenna. How do you make up for it?
Campaign spokesman Sterling Clifford told us:
"The levy swap resolves an accouting issue, but it doesn't put additional money into schools."