Washington Senate Democrats want to use the state’s higher tax revenues to satisfy both the state Supreme Court’s K-12 school-funding order and provide some relief to homeowners facing a boost in property taxes.
OLYMPIA — Washington Senate Democrats want to use soaring tax revenues to address both the state Supreme Court’s K-12 school-funding order and the added burden on homeowners facing higher property-tax bills to fund schools.
Senate Democrats on Monday released a supplemental operating-budget proposal that adds approximately $970 million for school-worker salaries and is intended to satisfy the court’s McCleary decision.
Since 2014, the court has held the state in contempt for failing to move fast enough to satisfy the McCleary order and fully fund Washington’s public schools.
“This budget would get us out of contempt,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island and chief Senate Democratic budget writer.
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Lawmakers last year approved a K-12 education funding plan that hiked state property taxes by about 80 cents per $1,000 in assessed valuation for every homeowner in 2018.
The plan then lowered and capped property taxes collected by the state’s 295 school districts. While many homeowners are expected to see an eventual overall tax decrease, many in the Puget Sound region will face higher overall property-tax bills.
In November, the justices ruled that plan complied with the order.
But the court also said the plan didn’t move fast enough to hit the longstanding September 2018 deadline to fully fund the school system.
To make that deadline, the justices suggested about $1 billion more in funding.
Homeowners this year — particularly in King County — are facing higher property-tax bills as that plan takes effect.
It’s difficult to lower taxes this year, Rolfes said, since bills are already calculated and being mailed out.
The new Democratic budget proposal would spend $403 million in budget reserves to make a one-time, 31-cent cut to the state property-tax rate for the 2019 calendar year.
Using those budget reserves requires a 60 percent vote in the Legislature, so Democratic lawmakers would need the support of some Republicans.
The proposal comes just a week after forecasters projected that the state will collect about $1.3 billion in more revenue from existing taxes through 2021.
Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, called the Senate proposal “a good starting point,” but said more money should go into property-tax relief.
This year, Republicans have called for $1 billion in property-tax cuts, and many in the GOP have said lawmakers should ignore the court’s call for more school funding.
Braun also took issue with the way Democrats would add the K-12 money to appease the court.
Since the court was concerned about the September 2018 deadline, rather than amount of funding, Braun said, lawmakers should also find a way to lower local school-district levies.
By giving the funding only as additional money, it would “get bargained away” to unions, Braun said, and those funds then “don’t really go to help students.”
Republicans, he said, are also focused on restoring the tax cut to manufacturers that lawmakers agreed upon last year — before Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed it.
Democratic House lawmakers are expected to release their proposed supplemental budget Tuesday.