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Washington, California Eye Tax Proposals to Support Schools

Voters in Washington and California, two states that have made recent, deep cuts to education, could soon be asked to support tax increases that backers say will stave off more schoolhouse pain.

In Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat whose state faces an estimated $1.4 billion budget hole, is backing a temporary sales tax hike that would raise $494 million, money that would flow to schools.

The governor is already calling for $2 billion in cuts in her supplemental budget. The tax increase will help the state avoid having to make even deeper reductions to schools—including, she says, shortening the school year from 180 to 176 days. (Critics of Gregoire's plan say this is a false choice, and that the state could save money on teacher salary and benefits, among other steps.) But one recent poll seemed to show public support for the tax plan.

"After three years of cutting, now is the time to invest in a better future for all Washingtonians—for all of us to take responsibility and yes, spend a half-penny more," Gregoire said in a statement. "I believe Washingtonians will stand with me. I believe they are tired of tearing down the services our parents and grandparents built—services that reflect the special values of Washington state."

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown is considering will ask voters to approve a tax hike on sales and wealthy earners, with much of that revenue going to schools, according to reports by the Sacramento Bee and others. In addition, a group called the Think Long Committee for California is calling for a broad overhaul of the state's tax system.

Whether either governor can muster public support for those measures is uncertain. As we reported, a measure designed to raise taxes and channel money to schools in Colorado was easily defeated last month.

Gregoire is clearly betting that voters believe schools have sacrificed enough, and that they're deserving of extra support. We'll soon know if she's right.

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