Photos by Eric Mathison
State Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-Des Moines) talks to Jeb Binns’s Contemporary Problems class at Burien’s Highline High School

State legislator presents a contemporary problem in Highline High class

State Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-Des Moines) presented Jeb Binns’ Contemporary Problems class at Highline High School with a particularly thorny contemporary problem on Dec. 13:

How does the state Legislature come up an extra $1 billion to maintain the same level of state services while finding an additional $1 billion to adequately fund basic education as ordered by the courts?

Additional taxes might be an answer, Upthegrove noted, but a voter-approved state initiative requires a two-thirds vote by legislators to raise taxes. Many lawmakers ran for office with the core pledge that they would not vote to raise taxes.

Services could be reduced but the Legislature has already cut $10 billion in services over the last four years, according to the Des Moines Democrat.

Upthegrove told students he favors ending tax breaks that have been approved by previous legislatures.

“There are billions of dollars of taxes we don’t collect,” Upthegrove declared. “The tax breaks might have been good at some time but not now.”

He admitted closing tax loopholes would be a tax increase, subject to the two-thirds rule.

A court ruling that the Legislature has violated the state constitution by not adequately funding basic education adds to the problems faced by legislators when they reconvene next month.

“The judicial branch is telling the legislative branch to spend another $1 billion on schools,” Upthegrove said. “Ninety percent of our time is going to be spent on how to fund education.”

Asked by Binns, who attended high school with Upthegrove, whether he expects the Legislature to pass a budget quickly, Upthegrove replied, “No, we’ll do it on the last day.”

Upthegrove likened it to students who wait until the deadline to complete a school assignment.

He admitted that the tension of legislators not being able to end the session and go home before balancing a two-year budget makes it difficult to take a long-term approach to problems.

Upthegrove added his guess is the Legislature will place a tax-increase measure on the ballot for voters.

A female student said she knows there are a lot of bad teachers and asked Upthegrove how districts could get rid of them.

Upthegrove noted there is a new teacher evaluation system. He said he favors principals being allowed to fire bad teachers but only after due process.

“It’s a balancing act but employees have rights,” Upthegrove said.

Upthegrove, House Environment Committee chair, said “slow progress” is being made on cleaning up Puget Sound.

He noted improving the environment costs money and involves making controversial policy decisions. People are more concerned currently with the economy and jobs, he added.

“Puget Sound looks good but it is a huge mess now,” Upthegrove declared.

Upthegrove added the nation has to reduce carbon emissions. One way is to promote public transportation. People will use it if a good public transportation system is built, he said.

Upthegrove told the students that in addition to be a legislator, he referees basketball games. He noted there are parallels between the two professions.

He said in both only you know in your heart if you think you made the right decision and both make you controversial.

“And when you slink off the court, everybody is mad at you,” Upthegrove concluded.

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