After conservative opposition, a bill that would have raised the 1 percent cap on property-tax levies was pulled by its sponsor.

Share story

OLYMPIA — Big-idea revenue proposals this year have come and gone, attracting momentary attention before drifting away as state lawmakers focus on what they think could gain enough votes to pass.

But last week, one recently introduced proposal actually, formally disappeared.

House Bill 2255, which would have lifted the 1 percent cap on local property-tax levies, was sponsored by Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland. While Haler said the bill’s intent was to lift the local tax cap, the proposal would also have lifted the state property tax cap. Had it been enacted, it could have eventually resulted in hundreds of millions more dollars in state property taxes per year, according to state estimates.

But after immediate criticism from conservatives, Haler removed his name from the bill, and the two co-sponsors declined to sign on as the main sponsors, according to Barbara Baker, chief clerk of the state House. So the bill was pulled Wednesday, meaning it no longer exists, according to Baker.

“I think he got beat up,” Rep. Ross Hunter said of Haler.

Hunter, D-Medina, and Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline, were the co-sponsors.

Haler’s bill would have replaced the tax cap with a formula related to inflation and population growth. Under the formula, some areas would have been able to increase the caps to as high as 5 percent.

In a May 7 email to supporters, anti-tax initiative activist Tim Eyman called HB 2255 “terrifying.”

It was Eyman who in 2001 sponsored Initiative 747, which voters approved to cap property tax-rate increases at 1 percent per year. In 2007, I-747 was struck down by the state Supreme Court as unconstitutional — but lawmakers and then-Gov. Chris Gregoire reinstated it in a special session that year.

“Can taxpayers afford a 5-fold increase in their property tax increases?” Eyman wrote in his email. “Massive increases in property taxes mean skyrocketing house payments, skyrocketing rent payments, and skyrocketing commercial lease payments (meaning higher prices for most everything you buy).”

KIRO radio host Dori Monson also took issue with Haler’s proposal.

The reaction “didn’t take me by surprise,” Haler said. But it was overblown, he added.

Instead of HB 2255, Haler says he now intends to propose a study of the 1 percent property-tax cap to help encourage a discussion.

That proposal would direct the state Department of Revenue and Office of Program Research to assess “what has the 1 percent affected or not affected and what would be a reasonable (tax-cap) rate,” he said.

The study would be released by the end of the year, according to Haler.

The 1 percent cap, which can keep property-tax revenue growing at a rate slower than annual inflation, has made it difficult for high-growth communities such as King County to keep up with providing services such as jails and road maintenance, local officials have said. Haler said the cap is affecting his district, too.

Josh Weiss, director of policy and legislative relations at the Washington State Association of Counties said the tax caps have also “reduced the number of sheriff’s deputies on the road and delayed court proceedings.”

“Some counties have placed arbitrary caps on the number of inmates they will book because of the limited budget they have to pay for housing them,” said Weiss, whose organization supported the bill.

King County has been considering a plan to release people arrested on felony-drug and property-crime charges to manage jail costs.

Weiss says he also didn’t find the reaction by conservatives a surprise.

“Taxes are a hot-button issue,” he said. “We know that there’s a strong anti-tax sentiment in the public.”

Hunter said although he supports the idea of Haler’s proposal, he didn’t want to become the main sponsor because he would have written the proposal differently. Ryu, the other co-sponsor, did not respond to a request for comment.

Information in this article, originally published May, 25, 2015 was clarified May 26, 2015. The story has been updated to reflect that HB 2255 would also have lifted the cap on state property-tax levies.