House majority plan would have King County property owners pay more

May 18, 2017

My Democratic counterparts in the House criticize how our Senate majority’s education-funding reforms, and the budget proposal which supports them, would keep property taxes as the primary source of support for schools.

They claim a property tax “is indiscriminate, hitting rich and poor people alike – and disproportionately hitting certain districts, especially in the Puget Sound region.”

What House Democrats don’t talk about is how our plan is better for King County property owners than what they’re proposing.

House majority leaders would not only allow local school districts to tax their property owners at a higher rate. They also would do away with the 1% cap on the growth of local-government property taxes (imposed by voters in 2001, then by legislators in 2007). We figure the net effect is a savings of about 25 cents per $1,000 APV under our approach. In King County that can add up pretty fast.

The same Democratic leaders claim our state’s tax system is “upside down,” in part because Washington doesn’t tax personal income (something they want to change). But what’s really upside down is the school-levy system. Since 2011 the amount of money collected through local school levies has exceeded what’s coming in from the state common-school levy, and that gap continues to widen.

The state Supreme Court has found the K-12 funding system to be unconstitutional on two occasions (1978 and 2012) and both rulings came a year after local-levy collections moved ahead of what the state levy generated. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Whose plan would remedy the situation? Not the House majority’s.

So, to recap: House Democrats are OK with the “indiscriminate” property tax when it suits them, on top of the tax proposals they won’t bring to a vote (a discriminatory new tax on personal income and a 20% tax hike on most employers, including day cares). They’re OK with allowing school districts to rely more on local levies, even if that “disproportionately” hits most households in districts where property values are lower.

No thanks. Washington students, families and employers would be better off with our Senate majority’s uniform, stable, reliable, and constitutional approach – the only progressive and equitable plan on the table.