The school board plans to seek the largest allowable local property tax increase in the operations levy going to voters in February — despite a hike in state property taxes for schools next year.
OLYMPIA — The consequences of next year’s state property-tax hike to fund K-12 schools are starting to hit home.
Three Washington state lawmakers this week wrote a letter asking the Issaquah School Board not to seek the maximum possible local property tax levy in the February elections.
The lawmakers — one Democrat and two Republicans — all voted for the property tax shift the Washington Legislature approved to comply with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision ordering that K-12 schools be better funded.
The plan largely relies on a state property-tax adjustment that increases all homeowners’ taxes in 2018, as the state assumes some costs currently funded by local school district property-tax levies.
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In the years after that, homeowners in some school districts will see overall increases — some substantial — while others will see their property taxes go down.
While Issaquah homeowners will pay more in state property taxes, the school district will get an even larger amount back from the state, said Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, and Rep. Paul Graves, R-Fall City, who both signed the letter.
“Issaquah hit an absolute home run,” said Graves. “That’s why all three of us voted for it.”
But the district intends to seek the biggest local property-tax increase allowed by law in the February elections for its operations levy.
Despite the numbers cited by the lawmakers, Issaquah School Board President Lisa Callan said the district ultimately doesn’t know how much state funding it will get.
The local levy is necessary to make sure the school can pay substitute teachers as well as transportation and special-education costs, she said. Those things aren’t expected to be fully covered by the new state money, Callan added.
The levy resolution approved by the board says that if the state covers more of those costs, the district won’t take the entire tax increase.
“We will only collect what we need,” Callan said.
In the letter to the district, Mullet, Graves and Republican Rep. Jay Rodne of Snoqualmie argued the additional state funding should ease the need for higher local property taxes.
“We felt this [plan] created a scenario where the local levy could be reduced by an amount greater than the state increase — thus leaving our constituents in the Issaquah School District with a tax cut, while the students in the schools would be left with tens of millions of extra dollars,” the letter says.
The three lawmakers added they won’t support a maximum local levy increase.
In an interview, Mullet said the district’s pursuit of the size of the proposed hike left him “blindsided.”
“I think this is going to be a battle for every school district in the Puget Sound region,” he said. “I just would have thought that at the local level there would be a much stronger attempt to protect taxpayers.”
The Legislature’s school-funding plan was expected to hit so-called property-rich areas of Puget Sound especially hard.
Democratic lawmakers had proposed a new capital gains tax or adjustments to Washington’s business-and-occupation or homesellers’ taxes to raise more money for schools.
Some Democrats have already said they’d like to find other revenue to roll back the size of the state property-tax hike.
Meanwhile, state Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, one of the architects of the school-funding plan, has said he’s open to using additional revenue from existing taxes to reduce the impact of the higher property taxes.
As for Issaquah’s proposed local property-tax increase, “at the end of the day, the voters will still decide,” said Graves. “I’m just disappointed.”