State lawmakers Wednesday put out three competing proposals to lower local property-tax levies for education funding per the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.

Share story

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers Wednesday put forth three competing proposals to address part of a court mandate for K-12 education that would reduce schools’ reliance on local tax levies.

The plans come on top of the more than $1 billion lawmakers are pouring into their proposed 2015-17 budgets to fulfill the state Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling known as the McCleary decision.

The flurry of ideas on tax-levy reform — state Superintendent Randy Dorn released his own, separate proposal Tuesday — come late in the legislative session. As lawmakers near their last scheduled day April 26, Republicans and Democrats have big differences to settle on their proposed budgets — and those negotiations broke down Wednesday.

The three tax-levy proposals introduced Wednesday also differ, ranging from a new capital-gains tax, to a levy swap between local and state property taxes, and a plan to do more research and determine a way forward next year.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Saying they’d been playing “a game of chicken” for a long time, Frank Ordway, government-relations director for the League of Education Voters, said he was happy to see Olympia take on the levy issue.

Until now, many lawmakers, as well as Inslee, have shied away from the complicated and politically touchy subject.

“They don’t fear the sanctions of the court,” Ordway said, “as much as they fear the sanctions of their political bases.”

The GOP plan

The McCleary decision found, among other things, that school districts have been forced to rely too much on local levies and the state needs to do more to fund basic education, including teacher compensation.

Introduced by Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, the GOP plan would use a state task force’s recommendations on teacher compensation to set salary levels. It would lower local property-tax levies going to schools while raising the state’s property-tax share devoted to schools by the same dollar amount.

“Property-poor” places with the low assessed property values would benefit most, according to Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah.

“They’re going to see the most tax relief in those areas,” said Magendanz, the ranking Republican on the House Education Committee.

The Dammeier plan would limit local levy dollars to nonbasic education programs. It would simplify the state’s teacher-salary system and link earnings more closely to certifications, instead of years on the job. It would also repeal Initiative 732 — approved by voters in 2000 to give teachers annual cost-of-living increases — and use another method for those adjustments.

Under the Dammeier plan, the average salary for teachers would range between $59,250 and $79,600. On a district average, teachers now earn between $44,000 and $83,000 annually, according to Dammeier.

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said although the GOP proposal might be considered revenue-neutral on a statewide basis, it would mean a big property-tax hike for Puget Sound communities to assist the rural districts.

“If you don’t live anywhere near the Puget Sound, this is a great plan for you,” said Ranker. “If you do, you’re probably going to see a pretty significant property-tax increase.”

The Democrats’ proposals

Democratic senators proposed a version of a tax on capital gains that would raise $1.7 billion through 2019 for K-12 basic education. That money would go toward a plan sponsored by Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, to increase teacher compensation — which, like the GOP proposal, comes from task-force recommendations. Those proposals combined would allow for a plan sponsored by Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, to lower local property-tax levies for most districts.

“We calculated that 98.7 percent of the citizens in the state will get a property-tax reduction if you put this plan into place,” said Hargrove at a news conference.

Ranker’s capital-gains proposal would apply a 7 percent tax to about 7,500 of the state’s wealthiest taxpayers for gains over $250,000 for an individual and $500,000 for a couple. Ranker also proposes a constitutional amendment to make sure that dollar threshold could never be lowered and thus affect more taxpayers.

The Senate Democrats’ plan would phase in Initiative 1351, the K-12 class-size reduction measurevoters approved in November. Budget proposals by the Democratic-controlled House, the GOP-controlled Senate and Gov. Jay Inslee have all called for I-1351 to be altered to apply only to K-3.

Dammeier, author of the GOP proposal, called the Democrats’ capital-gains proposal “untested” and argued it wouldn’t fit the court’s need for a reliable school-funding revenue.

“I don’t think there’s votes for that in the Legislature, we’ll see,” said Dammeier. “I’m not saying any of these votes are easy, but that is certainly a very difficult way to fund schools.”

A third proposal came Wednesday from House Democrats in the form of House Bill 2239, which would create a council to recommend to lawmakers how to implement teacher compensation and funding reforms. The council would issue a report to lawmakers and the governor by Dec. 1, studying how the state’s 295 school districts now use local bargaining agreements and levies to fund teachers.

The proposal, from Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, sets 2016 and 2017 deadlines for lawmakers to implement changes to the levy system and teacher compensation.

Hunter’s proposal also directs the council — which would include eight lawmakers, and one representative each of the offices of the governor, treasurer and state superintendent — to suggest new revenue, including a possible carbon-pollution tax.

The difference between his proposal and the others, Hunter said: “I think I might be able to pass mine.”

The state Supreme Court last fall found the state in contempt for not making enough progress on the McCleary order. On Tuesday, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn released his funding proposal.

While lawmakers agree they need to reach a deal on levy reform, “It’s going to be a complex negotiation,” said Magendanz.