BREAKING NEWS: Washington Supreme Court Fines State $100,000 per Day Until Mandates of McCeary Satisfied
Its not often that I get the chance to refer to something as breaking legal news. The Legislature has been struggling for some time to remedy the debacle that is public education funding in this state. As anyone who has grown up in Washington can attest, the patchwork system of foundations, levies, property tax schemes, and state funding leaves some schools high and dry and others well funded.
The Legislature was held in contempt, with sanctions stayed to give the Legislature time to fix it in the most recent legislative session. After a session and three specials sessions, a budget was worked out, and people knew right away that it probably was inadequate to stave off the sanctions promised by the Supreme Court.
And the promised sanctions came:
When the legislature failed to enact a budget for the 2015-17 biennium by the end of the regular session, the court held sanctions further in abeyance until the final adjournment of the legislature after any special session. At a third special session, the legislature adopted a 2015-17 biennial budget that included funding for basic education, and at the court's discretion, the State submitted its annual post-budget report to the court on July 27, 2015.
. . .
Despite repeated opportunities to comply with the court's order to provide an implementation plan, the State has not shown how it will achieve full funding of all elements of basic education by 2018. The State therefore remains in contempt of this court's order of January 9, 2014. The State urges the court to hold off on imposing sanctions, to wait and see if the State achieves full compliance by the 2018 deadline. But time is simply too short for the court to be assured that, without the impetus of sanctions, the State will timely meet its constitutional obligations. There has been uneven progress to date, and the reality is that 2018 is less than a full budget cycle away. As this court emphasized in its original order in this matter, "we cannot wait until 'graduation' in 2018 to determine if the State has met minimum constitutional standards."
. . .
Given the gravity of the State's ongoing violation of its constitutional obligation to amply provide for public education, and in light of the need for expeditious action, the time has come for the court to impose sanctions. . . .
Effective immediately, the State of Washington is assessed a remedial penalty of on-hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) per day until it adopts a complete plan for complying with article IX, section 1 by the 2018 school year.
So what does this mean? At first glance, this seems like a hefty sanction, until you realize McCleary is really dealing in billions, not millions. At $100,000 a day, that only creates $36,500,000 in sanctions a year. Pragmatically, it is cheaper for the State to absorb these sanctions than to comply with the mandates of the Washington Constitution and the McCleary decision.
I would not expect much movement from the legislature until these sanctions increase to something with teeth.
Here's a link to the full order of the Court: McCleary.