Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire told the state’s largest teachers union that she will work to increase taxes to help the state meet its mandate to provide quality education.
“I am traveling the state to send the message to legislators and taxpayers that we must have a new source of revenue because we cannot have money in the good times and no money in the bad times,” Gregoire said. “We have to have money all the time to meet our obligation to ensure the education of our children.”
Gregoire spoke Thursday evening at Spokane Convention Center during the annual convention of the Washington Education Association. About 1,000 members are attending the weekend event.
The governor, who opted not to run for a third term, won’t be governor when the Legislature convenes in January to consider the next two-year budget cycle and if tax increases will be part of that budget. Even so, she said she will remain active on the issue of education funding.
“It is time for us to step up to the responsibility that we as citizens in the state have and that is a long-term sustainable revenue source,” she said.
Gregoire has taken diverse positions on raising taxes over her tenure, sometimes pointing to citizens’ initiatives rejecting taxes when arguing against increases. But some years she backed taxes to fill budget holes. In her half-hour speech, for instance, she criticized the voters’ rejection of a soda and candy tax in 2010.
“I got to tell you, I have never been so shocked in my life that they could come in – big business like that – and get our voters to say no to 2 ½ cents on a can of pop for three years to fund education,” she said.
The Washington State Supreme Court ruled early this year that the state is violating the state Constitution by not adequately funding education. It set a 2018 deadline to implement reforms.
Gregoire said it will take an extra $1 billion in new revenue in the next two-year budget cycle to meet the state’s education obligation.
“Obviously, during the worst economic time since the Great Depression, citizens and legislators would not raise revenue, but let me be clear, we are on the road to recovery, now is the time for us to educate our citizens and our legislators about the real need for new revenue in this state,” she said.
She said that based on the decisions of the Legislature this year it is unlikely that closing “tax loopholes” will raise the money, in part, because a two-thirds majority is needed to raise taxes, and that includes eliminating loopholes.
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise revenue?” she said. “It is just shy of absolutely impossible.”
Some liberal critics of the governor sometimes argued that Gregoire didn’t fight hard enough for more taxes to avoid budget cuts.
But Debbie Rose, a third grade teacher at Colbert Elementary who attended the speech, said Gregoire has been a great advocate for strong schools. She said she understood Gregoire’s reluctance at times to push for new taxes.
“It’s the reality,” she said. “You can only fight for what the people will support.”