Washington lawmakers moved one step closer toward a solution to the “levy cliff” — which could cause a $500 million shortfall for school districts starting in 2018 — when the House voted Monday to pass a bill designed to delay the cliff by one year. It moves to the Senate.

Share story

Washington lawmakers moved one step closer toward a solution to the “levy cliff” — which could cause a $500 million shortfall for school districts starting in 2018 — when the House voted Monday to pass a bill designed to delay the cliff by one year.

Without such action, school districts, starting in 2018, wouldn’t be able to collect as much money as they have in the past through local property-tax levies. Most districts currently can collect up to 28 percent of their levy base, which is the amount they receive in state and federal funding. That percentage, known as the levy lid, will decrease to 24 percent starting in 2018 — unless the Legislature extends that deadline.

The bill that passed Monday, sponsored by Democrats, proposes a one-year extension.

Supporters say that would allow districts to breathe easier, removing the threat that they would lose the ability to raise local dollars while they wait for the state to further increase its contribution to public-school funding as required under the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. The court ruled in 2012 that Washington was violating its constitution by underfunding schools.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, said the levy cliff would especially hurt school districts in rural areas and other primarily low-income areas. Districts, including Seattle, have been planning two budgets for the 2017-2018 school year, one with levy dollars and one without.

“Not acting on this really creates a climate, not just in our schools but in our rural communities, of uncertainty,” Lytton said.

Republican lawmakers, however, said the bill is only a temporary fix that suggests the Legislature isn’t committed to coming up with a full plan to comply with the McCleary decision.

Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, called the measure “a resignation that we are going to fail” in coming up with a full plan.

The bill passed 62-35 and now moves to the Senate.