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Originally published Friday, April 5, 2013 at 6:57 PM

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Editorial: Education must be center of budget process

The Senate majority coalition has proposed a budget, and Gov. Jay Inslee an outline. Next up is the House. All should be focused on education as the centerpiece.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE good thing about the state Senate Majority Coalition’s proposed budget is that education would get almost all of the 6.7 percent increase in state spending. School spending per pupil would increase by $1,000.

The problem is the Republicans’ insistence on limiting the budget to existing taxes. It will take more than that to erase the projected deficit and satisfy the Washington Supreme Court’s demand for more state support of schools.

Democratic leaders immediately charged that the budget included a transfer that is not legal and other cuts that will not stand. The budget cuts funding for the Department of Ecology by 35 percent and Trade and Economic Development by 45 percent, and even the judiciary, by 5 percent.

It purports to give higher education an 11 percent raise, then cuts college tuition by 3 percent, which wipes out part of the raise.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s outline for a budget — it has few details — is much more generous. It would raise state spending 11 percent. But it comes with $1.2 billion in taxes, mostly by extending increases that legislators promised would be temporary.

The governor also promised not to be a big tax raiser and to subject government to “lean management,” the strictures of which he has yet to define.

Some of the revenue in his budget outline comes from closing tax preferences, and there is a case for that.

A week ago, this page suggested ending $227 million in tax breaks with little social value. But each of our suggestions is arguable, as are the governor’s. Booking $1.2 billion in new revenues is too ambitious in one budget cycle, especially given voters’ recent negativity toward tax increases.

Another thing. New revenue to education must come with reforms to make the system work better. The most important of these is to allow principals discretion over who works in their buildings, ending the practice of passing along teachers nobody wants.

Many teachers view such a reform with fear, but it is the sort of rule most Americans live with already, and it would benefit the children.

House Democrats will come out with their budget next week.

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