Justice Johnson files dissent in Supremes’ education funding order – Court’s impact on short session unclear

Last week I posted on the state Supreme Court majority opinion finding lawmakers failed to make adequate progress toward full funding of basic education as specified in the Court’s McCleary decision. I concluded:

Substantial new funding in the short session is unlikely. Key legislators already question the need for any supplemental budget. After last year’s lengthy budget impasse, legislators are likely to recognize an impasse early and avoid an election-year showdown.

Justice James Johnson has released his dissent from the majority opinion. As he has previously, Johnson finds that the Court’s “expanding exercise of continuing jurisdiction” violates the separation of powers.

Budgetary matters are the province of the legislature, which is equipped with
mechanisms for gathering public input through elected representation and may even
raise or lower funding sources.

He goes further.

Even in light of the legislature’s improved educational funding, we are unqualified to assess the progress made or the legislature’s chances of achieving full funding by 2018. Put simply, the founders did not intend for this court to act in such a role and, more importantly, prohibited exercise of such self-granted power. With zero information regarding other financial constraints and plans for future budgets, it is impossible for us to evaluate the legislature’s progress. We are not — and should be acting as — managers of the state coffers.

Eight of the nine members of the Court signed on to the majority opinion. Johnson’s dissent, however, will doubtless provide some comfort — and cover? — to lawmakers disinclined to reopen the budget in the short session for other than minor spending tweaks.

At Washington State Wire, Erik Smith writes that with the Court order

…lawmakers have a $5 billion problem on their hands, and not a clue how they’ll deal with it.

In The News Tribune, Peter Callaghan writes that lawmakers will have to step up.

But [the Legislature] can’t hope to do nothing regarding schools funding and expect an increasingly impatient Supreme Court to once again wait till next year.

The Court said, “Jump.” Lawmakers now have to decide how high and how quickly.

I continue to expect only modest spending increases in the short session. We’ll see. Soon.

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