Pubdate: Fri, 06 Jan 2017
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Copyright: 2017 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Contact: P.O. Box 1909, Seattle, WA 98111-1909
Author: Joel Connelly
Note: web-only


Marijuana is still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
But Washington voters in 2012 legalized the cultivation, sale and taxation
of recreational marijuana. California voted in November 2016 to do

Will taxes on marijuana help pay high cost of K-12 education funding?

The state's Republican lawmakers have been as slippery as a pig on ice
when it comes to finding dollars to pay for state Supreme Court-ordered
full funding of K-12 education in Washington, a pattern seen Thursday at
The Associated Press' legislative forum.

"I think you will see a plan in time; it will be a good plan," state
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, told the gathering.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, the legislature's leading Democrat, suggested
at one point that the business community engage in "shuttle diplomacy"
between the two houses of Washington's divided lawmakers. "The business
community needs a well-educated workforce," the Seattle Democrat said.

But one Republican floated a trial balloon.

"I believe marijuana dollars should go into education," said state Sen.
Ann Rivers, R-LaCenter, who has been part of a legislative task force
working on education spending.

"That's one idea: We put (pot revenue) into a pot and then we use it for
one purpose," added Rivers, who acknowledged that she has not talked out
the idea with the Republican Senate caucus.

Democratic State Sen. Christine Rolfes seemed intrigued, saying: "If we
need to dedicate marijuana (income) then I think we are open to that

Later in the day, however, Gov. Jay Inslee argued that the pot of revenue
from marijuana is not nearly enough to fund K-12 education and meet other
urgent needs such as adequate teacher pay and resources for mental health.

It remains to be seen whether the lawmakers were blowing smoke, thinking
out loud, or ready to take the idea seriously.

The marijuana business in Washington has gone up, up and away. Revenue
topped $1 billion in the two years after recreational marijuana sales
began in July 2014. Cars line up at the construction-mangled intersection
of 23rd Avenue and East Union Street in Seattle, as customers make left
turns into the Uncle Ike's marijuana emporium.

The booming business has generated at least $250 million in revenue to the
state, money that is controlled by the Legislature.

Some of the money goes into the general fund, while some of it funds
treatment programs and research. The state is also studying long-term
effects of marijuana legalization. (Washington and Colorado were the first
two states to legalize recreational marijuana, which remains illegal under
federal law.)

The state's K-12 students take a "healthy use survey," paid for by
marijuana income.

Gov. Inslee has proposed $4.4 billion in new revenue measures to fully
fund K-12 education, pay teachers a competitive wage and bolster state
mental health programs.

Inslee is proposing a capital gains tax on the state's wealthiest
residents, a carbon tax on polluters and an extension of the state
business and occupation tax on such services as accountants and lawyers.

Much of this is anathema to Republicans. They talk cooperation but admit
to obstacles.

"Right now, we don't have all the ducks in a row with our own caucus,"
Rep. Dan Kristiansen, House minority leader, told the AP forum.

The Legislature may be divided, but leadership of both parties has been
stable for the past three years. There is cooperation, although, as
Kristiansen put it, "We can get salty with each other from time to time."

"We're going to get there," Rivers predicted.
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