Remember when the state Supreme Court fined the state $100,000 a day for failing to fund basic education?
That was last summer, and the fines now add up to about $12 million. So far, Washington state hasn’t paid a dime.
That’s because only the Legislature can set up an account to make paying the fine possible.
One excuse is that the Legislature hasn’t been in session. But when the high court asked lawmakers to return, they said no.
Thomas Ahearne, the lawyer who fought for the school funding case known as McCleary, finds this interesting indeed.
“When someone important like Boeing wants a special session for a multibillion-dollar piece of legislation, there’s a special session – immediately,” he said.
The perception in Olympia is that the fines are a sideshow.
“It’s more the symbolism of it – the court is trying to prod the Legislature by trying to embarrass them into doing their jobs,” said Hans Dunshee, the budget chair for the House Democrats.
“If some constitutional lawyer that I respect says, ‘Don’t do it, it sets a bad precedent,’ I might not,” Dunshee said.
Which means there’s a chance the McCleary fines still won’t be paid when legislators return to Olympia in the New Year.
The Republicans, who control the Senate, say the issue is not about the fines.
“We’re most concerned about getting education funding right than how to pay a fine,” said Mark Schoesler, the Senate majority leader.
The Republicans are skeptical that education needs billions in more funding.
“It’s not about the total dollars, it’s about how it’s equitably done,” Schoesler said.
The Legislature has until 2018 to come up with a funding model for education.
The Supreme Court hasn’t been impressed with legislators’ progress, which is why it handed out the fine in the first place.