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 the Spokane Convention Center during the Washington Education Association’s annual convention. About 1,000 members are attending the weekend event.
The governor, who opted not to run for a third term, won’t be in office when the Legislature convenes in January to consider the next two-year budget and whether new taxes will be a part of it. 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 different positions on raising taxes over her tenure, sometimes pointing to citizens initiatives rejecting taxes when arguing against increases while at other times backing 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 Supreme Court ruled early this year that the state is violating its 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.
In the speech, Gregoire did not offer specifics for how the state should raise more revenue.
Some liberal critics of the governor have 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.”
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