Legislature ends on time with basic ed funding unresolved
By Elliot Suhr
WNPA News Service
OLYMPIA--House Bill 2797 and Senate Bill 6483 have a lot in common. Both increased funding for K-3 classroom construction, both had bipartisan sponsorship and both failed to reach the governor’s desk.
In McCleary v. Washington, the state Supreme Court ruled the state was not sufficiently funding basic education. Earlier this year, the court ordered legislators to quicken the pace of funding to meet McCleary obligations—including K-3 class size reductions. According to the National Education Association, Washington state is fourth worst in the nation for classroom sizes.
House Bill 2797 would have sold $700 million in lottery-backed bonds to fund K-3 classroom construction, and passed out of the House 90-7 with bipartisan support. It failed to make it to the Senate floor after State Treasurer Jim McIntire said lottery-backed bonds were too risky.
“We couldn’t get traction for it over here. There was too much opposition,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, prime sponsor of SB 6483. “This was kind of a work-around to see if we could get support, but we’re still not there.”
SB 6483 would have sold $825 million in general-obligation bonds—as opposed to lottery-backed revenue bonds—to modernize STEM facilities, fund all-day kindergarten and reduce K-3 class sizes.
After the bill failed to pass out of the Senate Rules Committee Wednesday morning, Keiser said: “We’ll see. Miracles do happen, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, who is a member of the Senate Rules Committee, voted to put the bill on floor, but said it was a matter of timing.
“I think there’s a strong feeling that those are very good topics and that concept is resonating with the Legislature,” he said. “But to make that kind of decision that impacts four biennia with two days left in a short session—it’s not the best way to make that policy.”
Several bills failed to make it out of the chambers this session, including bills to fund teacher cost-of-living adjustments, close tax exemptions for basic education and amend teacher evaluations to maintain the federal waiver for the No Child Left Behind act.
“The problem, I think, we see somewhat similarly, it’s the solution that is very different,” Dammeier said.
“So to assume that we’d be able to reconcile these two approaches and get the Legislature to agree—not in two days. Not in two weeks. Probably not in two months,” he said.
The House Democrats proposed a supplemental budget earlier this year that included a bill that would raise $100 million for basic education by closing tax exemptions. Leaders in the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus said that education funding discussions would be better suited for next session when the 2015-2017 biennium budget is on the table.
“We’ll probably be looking at this for next year,” said Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, co-sponsor on House Bill 2797. “I think later this fall, we can sit down and hammer out something that both chambers can agree to.”
The court called for more money to pay for existing reforms—including teacher cost-of-living adjustments, additional funding for schools, and a plan to fully fund basic education by April 30. According to lawmakers and education officials, the state needs to find $5 billion for basic education by 2018.
The $155 million supplemental budget enacted last Thursday allocated $58 million for K-12 materials and operating costs, but included no provisions for K-3 class size reductions.
“If we go out another year, it puts us in more of a crunch,” MacEwen said. “We’ll definitely have to work harder to get it addressed sooner.”
A proposal to substantially tax e-cigarettes stalls in the Legislature
By Christopher Lopaze
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
OLYMPIA--Elmer Saez, 19, got hooked on tobacco when he was 13. Saez was able to quit smoking cigarettes last July, and he credits the use of electronic cigarettes, or vaping, as the reason why. He recently started work at the Vaporium, an e-cigarette store, in Lakewood.
“Now, my whole reason to get up in the morning is to help people get off cigarettes,” Saez said. “There’s a feelings I can’t describe, somewhere between accomplishment and pride” when customers tell him they haven’t smoked a cigarette for months.
E-devices work by heating an oil, or e-liquid, that emits a vapor and then is inhaled. The oil usually contains nicotine, but nicotine-free oil is also available. Common ingredients used in the oil includes propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and other flavoring agents, all ingredients approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
E-cigarette proponents advocate vaping as a low-cost, healthier alternative to smoking tobacco. Ten milliliters of oil, the approximate of three and a half packs, only costs $8.
According to the state Department of Health, vaping may not be safer than cigarettes, citing unproven claims of safety, unknown long-term health risks, and the possible inhalation of nicotine and other harmful chemicals during use as concerns.
In the Legislature, proposed House Bill 2795 would have taxed tobacco substitutes, such as e-cigarettes, at 75 percent. A 95 percent tax was originally proposed. The bill would have allowed devices prescribed by a licensed physician to be exempt if the Food and Drug Administration approves e-cigarettes as tobacco-cessation devices. Revenue would have gone towards education.
The bill passed out of the House Finance Committee by a 7-6 vote. All the Republicans members of the committee, along with one Democrat, Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, opposed it. The session ended without further action taken on the measure in either the House or the Senate.
Reykdal said taxing e-cigarettes would unfairly target low-income people who are making a healthier choice. He said the bill is just about generating more tax revenue.
Until the Food and Drug Administration clarifies the health effects of e-cigarettes, “there is no good public policy reason to load up a tax on these products,” Reykdal said. “It would have a huge adverse effect on” these businesses.
Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, a member of the House Finance Committee, said the tax is important for public health, education funding, and limiting access to minors, which are likely to be attracted to available flavors like bubblegum, and drawn in by cartoon advertisements.
“It’s a win on all three fronts,” he said.
Pollet said the unregulated e-cigarette industry has avoided conducting the long-term studies necessary to get approval as a tobacco cessation device, but still want to market it that way.
“You can’t have it both ways,” he said.
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, use of e-cigarettes by middle
school and High School students has more than doubled between 2011 and 2012, increasing from 4.7 percent to 10 percent.
A fiscal analysis estimated the tax could have generated more than $30 million in revenue by 2018.
Steve Thompson, co-owner of Vaporium with his wife, Kim, said the tax would have put them at a competitive disadvantage, especially against online sales. They would have considered moving their business out of state if the law had passed, according to Thompson.
“It’s very rewarding, having a business doing something you’re passionate about,” he said. “I sleep very well at night.”
Thompson said one of their sayings is “our best customers quit us,” and he estimates they have about 100 customers per day, the majority of them are former smokers who switched to e-cigarettes.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue regulations on e-cigarettes soon.