Welcome to the latest round of trying to make sense of the property-tax plan that Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign into law.
OLYMPIA — The owners of a single-family Seattle home with a median assessed value could pay $460 more in property taxes next year under legislation approved last week to beef up state funding of public schools, according to one state analysis.
But a handful of Seattle lawmakers say that number includes some tax money that’s already being paid, and they insist the increase is lower, more like about $240 for that home.
Thus goes the latest parsing of numbers in the dizzying debate over the plan that shifts property-tax dollars from local to state coffers and increases taxes in some districts while lowering them in others.
This so-called levy swap is at the heart of legislation to add billions of dollars in new state money over four years to fulfill a court order to better fund Washington’s K-12 public schools.
Lawmakers also expanded online sales-tax collections and eliminated tax breaks on bottled water and extracted fuels to raise more money for education and other government services.
But it’s the complicated property-tax plan that has lawmakers, local education leaders and others trying to figure out the impact on schools and taxpayers.
Gov. Jay Inslee is scheduled to sign the legislation into law Thursday. Legislators negotiated the funding plan in secret and first released it this past Thursday, before passing it through the Legislature on Friday.
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With such a short turnaround between the plan’s public release and its expected signature by Inslee after a long holiday weekend, there’s been little time for independent review.
State Schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal said his office is hoping to have a full analysis of the plan in a few days or a week.
“The data challenges are so remarkable,” Reykdal said.
The state Supreme Court ruled in a 2012 decision called McCleary that Washington was violating its own constitution by underfunding the schools.
The property-tax changes, championed for years by many in the GOP, are intended to help the state pick up the tab for teacher and other school-worker salaries. Payroll is a key component of basic education that the court said must come from the state’s wallet.
School districts for years have used local property-tax levies to cover a chunk of those costs.
Under the Legislature’s plan, the state property tax that funds public schools will increase about 80 cents, to $2.70 per $1,000 in assessed valuation. Meanwhile, property taxes collected by the state’s 295 school districts will be lowered and capped.
From property-tax collections to a new regional salary system, lawmakers have said the plan includes about 500 different variables that could impact the finances of each school district.
In 2018, as the state transitions to the new system, homeowners in every school district will see a property-tax hike, the analysis by the state Office of Program Research shows. Over the following three years, some districts would see tax increases while others would see decreases.
Owners of a Seattle home with a median assessed valuation would see property taxes jump by $460 next year compared to 2017 tax bills, according to the analysis. The increase would hit $550 in 2021, compared to this year’s level.
Property taxes for a median assess-valued home in the Bellevue School District would rise $600 next year and be up $830 in 2021, compared to 2017 taxes.
The numbers are even higher in Mercer Island School District. Property taxes there would shoot up $970 in 2018 for a median assess-valued home, compared to this year’s levels. The increase would reach $1,280 in 2021.
But House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, says those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
That’s because the analysis includes some local school-district levy dollars that were already scheduled to be phased out under law, regardless of the education plan.
So Chopp and other lawmakers contend that the owners of a median assess-valued home in Seattle may pay about $240 in new taxes, not $460.
Chopp on Wednesday repeated numbers given by other Democratic lawmakers that show Seattle Public Schools getting $14 million in new money under the plan in the 2017-18 school year.
After that, the district could see $43 million in new money for 2018-19; $58 million for 2019-20; and $55 million in 2020-21, according to the numbers provided by Chopp and Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, as well as a trio of Democratic state senators.
As of Wednesday, the district was still working to determine whether that analysis is accurate, spokeswoman Kim Schmanke said.
Meanwhile, taxpayers in other school districts are expected to see their property taxes decline under the plan, the state analysis shows.
In Tacoma, property taxes for a median assess-valued home are expected to increase by $190 in 2018, before dropping over the following three years, compared to 2017 taxes.
In Federal Way, property taxes would go up by $240 in 2018, and then be lower through 2021.
Democrats had preferred other ways to fund the education plan, such as new taxes on capital gains, or a restructuring of Washington’s business-and-occupation or real-estate taxes.
Nonetheless, the legislation is “a great victory for funding our public schools,” Chopp said, “including Seattle.”
How select lawmakers voted on education-funding plan
Sen. Bob Hasegawa — No
Rep. Zack Hudgins — No
Rep. Steve Bergquist — No
Sen. Sharon Nelson — No
Rep. Eileen Cody — Yes
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon — Yes
Sen. Reuven Carlyle — No
Rep. Noel Frame — No
Rep. Gael Tarleton — Yes
Sen. Rebecca Saldana — No
Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos — Yes
Rep. Eric Pettigrew — Yes
Sen. Jamie Pedersen — No
Rep. Nicole Macri — Yes
Rep. Frank Chopp — Yes
Sen. David Frockt — No
Rep. Gerry Pollet — Yes
Rep. Javier Valdez — Yes
Sen. Lisa Wellman — No
Rep. Tana Senn — No
Rep. Judy Clibborn — No
Sen. Patty Kuderer — No
Rep. Vandana Slatter — No
Rep. Joan McBride — No
Source: Washington Legislature