OLYMPIA – Anyone wondering when Republican lawmakers will produce a plan to provide the state’s public school children with a better education should be careful about how they ask.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler made it very clear Republicans are tired of being asked when they will have such a plan, which has proved to be the knottiest legislative problem of the last five years.
In the latest sign that legislators are crankier than normal for the beginning of a session, Schoesler told a reporter last week it was none of his business. That answer set off a bit of coverage and commentary on television and the era’s most important news delivery system, Twitter.
The subject came up immediately at the first weekly press conferences of the session. House Republicans said it was too early to vote on an extension of state law that allows local school districts to collect more property tax to pay for education, which House Democrats had indicated minutes earlier they are champing at the bit to do.
Instead, Republicans said they want a comprehensive fix for education. Democrats don’t have a real plan with revenue to match programs anyway, House Republican Floor Leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, insisted, “just a plan to spend money.” But if House Democrats like their education plan so much, they should put it to a vote so negotiations can begin, he added.
Isn’t it hard to negotiate unless there’s also a plan from the Republican side, asked one reporter. When will we see that plan?
“When we put it out there, it will be a complete plan, not a series of concepts,” Schoesler said.
At this point, John Stang, a long-time Olympia scribe with a habit of asking long, multi-part questions, broke in. After an introductory monologue which included a riff that extending the property tax increase for school districts doesn’t really come out of the state coffers, so why should lawmakers care, Stang said he was trying to “pin down” Republicans on an actual time they will have a plan: a few days, weeks, or not until April.
While not the most polite or succinct question, it had merit. Some Republicans have said they want to wait until Feb. 1 when more teacher salary data will be available; others talk about waiting until the next revenue forecast, which is scheduled for mid March but could be moved up to mid February. And the public school issue is so complicated that you could probably get about the same odds of the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl 51 than the Legislature finishing in April when its allotted 105 days run out.
“John, none of your business,” Schoesler replied. “You’re going to be the last one to know.”
Wait a minute, said Rachel La Corte, AP bureau chief and president of the Capitol Correspondents Association. Stang’s representing his readers, so, “it is his business. It’s all of our business.” Unnecessary response, she said.
Maybe so, Schoesler said, pivoting back to the question of whether the school districts’ extra taxing authority should expire as scheduled or be extended for another year or so: “The point is, temporary really means temporary…We’re going to put a plan out there when we have fully briefed our members and the other (House Republican) caucus.”
But lawmakers have information on how the school property taxes affect each district, and they could put out a plan on that part of the school funding issue right now. So in the absence of that plan, reporters said they’ll keep asking. “Sure. There’s nothing wrong with asking,” Wilcox said.
“As soon as we can put all the pieces together, when the numbers add up, that it is credible, ” Schoesler said of the plan’s release schedule. “When it’s ready.”
A clip of Schoesler’s “none of your business” response was posted on social media by a Seattle television reporter, and picked up by KXLY in Spokane. It appeared on Twitter after the press conference, then picked up and retweeted by reporters around the state. Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, tried to scold some reporters for that, suggesting they were suffering from a “slow news day”
“Big thanks to all the intrepid journos defending the sanctity of the 4th estate #NoneYoBidnessGate” he wrote to Brandi Kruse, the Seattle TV reporter who aired the clip.
Baumgartner’s next missive, which said it “couldn’t get any more cringe embarrassing for WA journos” might’ve created a string of retorts had he not violated the basic rule of by changing it to #NotYoBidnessGate. But it did prompt one person who said she’s a constituent to come up with her own: #YoItIsMyBidness.
On Wednesday, Schoesler took to his blog on the Senate Republican Caucus web page to elaborate – and apologize, sort of.
The April reference in Stang’s question “struck me as something I would expect from certain Democrats, not a reporter who is supposed to be objective and professional – so I barked at him, which was out of character.” What he should’ve said, Schoesler wrote, was the plan will be done “sooner rather than later.”
Stang, a freelancer who has been a journalist for decades and is the second oldest print reporter covering the Legislature, was surprised by the fuss. An equal opportunity annoyer, he once asked Gov. Jay Inslee a question that prompted the governor to suggest they step out into the alley to settle who was right. He was fairly unfazed by Schoesler’s response.
But just to be clear. It is the business of the general public, and reporters, for lawmakers to come up with a plan to improve public schools. In the face of recent missed deadlines to come up with at least some framework for said plan by the start of the session, it’s the business of the public and reporters to ask when this might happen, and if they get vague answers to ask again. And again.
Even if we’re still asking in April.