The 81,000-member state teacher's union is running radio ads that pointedly pin the blame for suspending teacher cost-of-living increases on Gov. Chris Gregoire's main Republican challenger this year -- and urges her and lawmakers to do better.
"Remember Dino Rossi?" the Washington Education Association ad begins. "Well, he's hoping you don't remember his record on education."
Teachers have never gotten the money they would have gotten in 2003 and 2004 because lawmakers -- including Rossi -- suspended voter-approved raises for those years in the face of a massive budget deficit. Lawmakers restored the annual increases, based on Seattle's consumer price index, in 2005.
This year, House lawmakers proposed adding an extra 1 percent increase for teachers to partly make up for the years when those Initiative 732 raises were halted. Combined with this year's regular cost-of-living increase, teachers would see a nearly 5 percent raise this year.
The Senate, however, proposed just the 4 percent raise, with budget writers saying they instead wanted to spend money on things like expanding all-day kindergarten.
The WEA ad says that Rossi "championed a state budget that suspended teacher and school employee pay raises for two years." It says that Washington teachers, on average, earn $3,000 less than the national average, and $12,000 less than their West Coast counterparts.
"We all know good teachers are the single most important factor in our child's education," the ad says. "Our kids deserve the best."
Rossi (who responded with an unusual approach: a YouTube video rebuttal) called it a "smear campaign." Democratic Gov. Gary Locke is the one who originally proposed suspending the initiative, Rossi points out, and the budget was approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, the Democrat-controlled House, and Locke.
Despite a budget deficit of more than $2 billion, Rossi said, he wrote into the budget pay raises for teachers in their first 7 years on the job, so none would be earning less than $30,000 a year.
"Our teachers are very valuable to us, and I understand that," Rossi said. "My father was one."
"Now why are they doing ads like this? Well, Christine Gregoire and her political operatives are terrified," Rossi said. "They've done the polling. They know that we're going to win again, this time with a recount-proof majority vote."
The House has already approved its budget plan; the Senate's likely to do the same with its own later today. After that, budget writers from both sides will sit down and hash out a final budget for this year. Lawmakers are slated to wrap up this year's session by March 13th.