- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday unveiled a plan to give teachers a raise, including increasing the state’s portion of a teacher’s starting pay by nearly $5,000 next fall to help retention rates across the state.

The governor announced the proposal during the unveiling of his supplemental budget proposal, which makes some tweaks to the current $38 billion, two-year state budget that was adopted earlier this year. The new proposal includes putting more money toward covering wildfire costs and into the state’s mental health system.

The teacher proposal - which would bump the state portion of the teacher starting pay from $35,700 to $40,000 - is separate from the budget plan. It would cost about $100 million dollars a year, something Inslee says can be done if four tax exemptions are closed or limited.

Inslee said a recent state survey shows that the state is facing a shortage of qualified teachers and substitutes and school districts are struggling with teacher retention. He says his plan will lead to more than 8,700 teachers receiving a raise ranging from $1,000 to $4,300. In addition to the base salary bump, his proposal provides a minimum 1 percent salary increase starting in the 2016-17 school year for all other teachers. Classified and administrative staff also would receive 1 percent raises under the plan.

To pay for the teacher raises, Inslee wants to:

-Repeal a use tax exemption for extracted fuel used by oil refineries, expected to save the state $17.7 million in the next fiscal year that begins in the middle of next year, and nearly $41 million in the 2017-2019 biennium.

-Require nonresidents from states with no sales tax, like Oregon, to apply for sales tax refunds when they make purchases in Washington, instead of getting them automatically. That would save the state nearly $24 million in the next fiscal year, and more than $55 million for the following two-year budget.

-Repeal the sales tax exemption on bottled water, saving the state nearly $83 million over the next three years.

-Limit the real estate excise tax exemption for banks, saving the state nearly $107 million over three years.

“Having a classroom teacher to teach algebra right now is more important than some oil industry tax break,” Inslee said during a news conference to announce his budget proposal.

Republican Bill Bryant, a Port of Seattle commissioner who is running against Democrat Inslee in next year’s gubernatorial election, said that while he agrees that something needs to be done about the teacher shortage, he would pay for the raises out of the existing budget instead of through taxes.

“I applaud him for trying to do it, but I would reallocate resources rather than propose new taxes,” he said.

Inslee’s supplemental budget includes more than $178 million to cover the cost to fight last summer’s wildfires that burned 1 million acres and destroyed more than 300 homes. That money comes from the state’s emergency fund.

The budget also spends more than $137 million on mental health needs, including efforts to improve safety and improve staffing levels at the state psychiatric hospitals. The budget pays for about 62 additional positions, including 51 registered nurses. It also puts more money toward improving hospital staff recruitment and retention rates.

Lawmakers return to the Capitol next month, when the House and Senate will each present their own supplemental budget proposals during the 60-day legislative session that is scheduled to end mid-March.

In a written statement, Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said Inslee’s proposal was “a good starting point for discussion.” But Senate Republicans’ main budget writer, Sen. Andy Hill, criticized the plan, writing that “the governor continues to offer plenty of ways to spend taxpayer dollars, but fails to provide a sustainable way to pay for it.”

Legislators have a lot on their plate for the short session, including returning under the cloud of $100,000-a-day sanctions imposed by the state Supreme Court since August over lawmakers’ lack of progress on fixing the way the state pays for public education. A legislative work group has been meeting for months in an effort to come up with a plan to satisfy the court.

Inslee’s budget proposal pays for that fine, which stands at about $16 million, out of the state’s general fund and put into a special education account.

The rest of the plan to answer the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on education funding is in the works, Inslee said. Lawmakers will propose a plan for fixing the way the state pays for basic education this year and will figure out how to pay for it by the 2017 legislative session, the governor said.

“Consensus on these solutions is going to take longer than a 60-day session,” Inslee said.

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Online:

Supplemental budget highlights: http://www.ofm.wa.gov/budget16/highlights/default.asp

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AP writer Donna Gordon Blankinship contributed from Seattle.

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