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Inslee ready to take budget battle to GOP

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By Jerry Cornfield
Herald Columnist
Tax breaks and unfunded mandates are the cockroaches of the legislative process.
You just can't kill them.
Even when one or two of each breed are eliminated by the men and women elected to run Washington, new strains of tax exemptions and state regulations are created by those same lawmakers.
Today the ritual will continue in two corners.
Gov. Jay Inslee this morning intends to name tax breaks he wants to end in order to generate additional dollars for the state's education system.
The big reveal will be made when he releases a broad blueprint for balancing the next state budget and pumping more than $1 billion in new money into public schools in the coming two years.
Inslee is ready for a partisan throw down with Republicans. They will likely say the tax breaks he wants to erase will mean higher taxes for someone in Washington and remind the governor he pledged to not raise taxes while campaigning for the job. (Just wait till they hear Inslee call for continuing some taxes scheduled to expire in June.)
"We know we will take some heat and fire by trying to close tax loopholes," said Jaime Smith, the governor's director of media relations. "If they can do what we're going to do without closing any tax loopholes, we'll be very curious to see how they can do that."
Meanwhile today, a Senate bill wiping a bunch of unfunded mandates on public schools off the books is before the House Education Committee for its expected approval. Whether it makes it through the full House is another story; only one mandate reduction bill has passed the Legislature since 2009.
Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, has been involved each time and told the House panel last week it's probably the last time he'll try.
His experience, like that of senators before him, has been one of limited success.
"Every one of those mandates has a voice behind it," said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell. "If it didn't have a voice behind it, it would be gone."
McAuliffe said she first tried two decades ago. A 1993 education reform law set up a committee to comb through existing state regulations in search of ones to repeal.
A bill got drafted. By the time it arrived at the governor's desk in 1995, all that was left was axing of requirements for school districts to have a written job-sharing policy and to provide a 30-minute lunch break for teachers. The law allowed districts to "work out other arrangements" regarding lunch periods.
Fast forward to 2013 and Senate Bill 5753. Originally 21 pages long, it was whittled down to nine pages when the Senate passed it 45-4.
Among its provisions: elimination of a 90-year-old requirement for schools to teach students about Temperance and Good Citizenship Day and how to properly make left-hand turns.
"I guarantee you schools will still teach left-hand turns," Hobbs told the House panel.
Privately educators grimace at the gobs of time spent on this bill because what's targeted for elimination won't save schools any money, only give teachers back a little of their time.
They want lawmakers to address the behemoths of the unfunded mandates -- school bus transportation, special education and materials and supplies. By law Washington is supposed to fully cover those costs but has not done so leaving school districts to pick up sizable portions of the tab.
During the hearing, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, asked Hobbs if lawmakers should approach unfunded mandates as they do tax exemptions by having a citizen commission study them all then recommend ones to retain, repeal or modify.
Hobbs liked the idea though he wasn't optimistic it would result in any more mandates disappearing since that's not happened with tax breaks.
"Yeah, they say these tax exemptions need to be repealed," he said. "None of us actually have the political will to repeal any of them."
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield's blog, The Petri Dish, is at Contact him at 360-352-8623 or

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