2012 Election

One Question for Rob McKenna

By Josh Feit October 5, 2012

Picture from the Columbian

At the gubernatorial debate on Tuesday night, Republican Rob McKenna accused his Democratic rival Jay Inslee of planning to raise taxes. (McKenna's only evidence, despite Inslee's pledge not to raise taxes, was that Inslee is a Democrat).

Despite McKenna's admittedly lazy critique, Fizz was critical of Inslee's response.

Inslee said that McKenna himself was literally proposing to raise taxes. Inslee pointed out that McKenna's education funding plan relies, in part, on a plan known as the the property tax swap.

The plan is revenue neutral, but it would raise state property taxes on wealthier parts of the state—subbing in Seattle and Bellevue money, for example, for Yakima money. A Republican proponent of the idea, outgoing state Sen. Joe Zarelli (R-18, Ridgefield), estimated that while it would boost funding for two-thirds of school districts (and keep funding for the remaining districts the same), taxpayers in 139 school districts (nearly 50 percent of the districts statewide), would end up paying more in property taxes. A Democrat, state Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48, Medina) has also proposed the idea.

Fizz was critical of Inslee's gotcha because it exists in a willfully oblivious vacuum. Here's the important context: The Washington State Supreme Court famously ruled earlier this year in its McCleary decision that the state was shirking its constitutional mandate to fully fund schools. The court said the legislature had to find full and stable funding for schools. Crunch the numbers and that means the state has to spend about between 20 and 25 percent, or about $1.6 billion, more on K-12 education every year.

The state currently spends about $6 billion a year and the local districts pay about $2 billion themselves on top of that.

Replacing the $2 billion in local taxes with statewide property taxes would A) stabilize the funding (the money would be coming from a bigger pool) and B) put the state in compliance with the constitution by funding schools itself rather than passing the buck to local school districts. (Obviously, this wouldn't increase school funding by the necessary 20-25 percent, but it would prevent the state from outsourcing its constitutional responsibility.)

It's also a more progressive approach—having wealthier people pay more.

While Inslee is technically correct that "hundreds of thousands of people" would pay more taxes, it is a redistribution of the burden—not an across the board tax increase.

The Seattle Times factchecked Inslee's charge today and found Inslee's barb "half true."

However, despite Fizz's skepticism (and the Times' fact check), there is a thorny question here for Republican McKenna: How does McKenna defend a tax increase on 47 percent of school districts?

We've put in several requests to McKenna to answer the question: How does he square his own commitment not to raise taxes with a proposal that would do just that for nearly half the school districts in the state?

(He acknowledged to Times reporter Jim Brunner this morning that taxes would increase for some people, saying: "The fact is that property-rich school districts with large commercial tax bases are going to share more of the burden because that's the only way you can comply with our constitution.")

He did not however, address the apparent contradiction that his approach creates with his GOP commitment not to raise taxes—nor the seeming hypocrisy he displays by lambasting Inslee for supposedly planning to raise taxes.

Again, we have several calls in to McKenna.
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