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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Delay In 'Levy Cliff' Headed To Inslee's Desk

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Washington House members debate extending the so-called ''levy cliff'' by another year as they continue to grapple with how to create a constitutional, state-funded public education system that doesn't rely on local levies.

Washington state school districts will not go over the so-called “levy cliff.” At least not next year. The state House Thursday sent the governor a bipartisan measure to extend current levy capacity for another year.

The current levy capacity for districts is 28 percent. Without the extension, that capacity would drop to 24 percent in 2018. Going over the cliff would have meant a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for Washington’s nearly 300 school districts. Now they’ll get a one-year extension on their current levy capacity. 

House Democratic Leader Pat Sullivan said this gives them the ability to budget for next year.

“Because districts today are trying to produce budgets and in some cases districts were producing two budgets, some were assuming that they had to use their contingency fund, some were assuming that they’d have to send out pink slips,” Sullivan said.

But Republican Matt Manweller cautioned this is a short-term fix as the legislature faces the big job of creating a constitutional public education system.

“So I think this bill deserves a polite golf clap, but not a touchdown spike celebration,” he said.

Washington lawmakers remain far apart on a solution to fully fund schools and take the pressure off local levies to pay for basic education.

Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign the levy extension into law in the coming days.

The Washington House first voted in January to delay the “levy cliff.” After that, minority Democrats in the Washington Senate tried several times to force a vote on the issue but were defeated by the Republican majority.

A bipartisan deal was finally reached in the Senate with the addition of a requirement that districts use levy dollars for “enrichment” and not to fund basic education. The bill also requires that districts report their levy spending to the state for tracking purposes.

The “levy cliff” deal comes just before a weekend when many state lawmakers will hold town hall meetings in their districts where school districts have been sounding the alarm about losing levy dollars.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."