The Republican-led state Senate’s two-year state budget proposal appears to take a reasoned approach to fully funding basic public education without unleashing a torrent of new taxes.
The $43 billion 2017-19 budget plan adds $1.8 billion toward K-12 education, which would come from projected growth in current tax revenue and spending cuts in other state programs.
The linchpin in the proposal is the “levy swap,” a statewide property tax that replaces much of the local voter-approved school levy taxes now used by most school districts to supplement basic education costs.
This “levy swap” will cause some property owners to pay higher taxes — cities with high property values such Seattle, Bellevue and Mercer Island — while others will pay less.
Sen. John Braun of Centralia, the chief Republican budget writer, said that under the proposal Seattle schools’ property-tax levy rate would rise to $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed value from the current rate of about $1.28 per $1,000. That works out to be about $250 per year for the average Seattle homeowners.
Property assessments would go down in places with lower property values, generally the rural parts of the state. The current levy rate in Walla Walla is $3.70 per $1,000.
So, from our rural Eastern Washington perspective, this tax shift feels equitable. It taxes those who can most afford to pay it while ensuring that every school in the state has the funds to pay for basic education costs, including teachers’ salaries.
“I’m confident that we have done our job here,” Braun said.
The Democrat-controlled House isn’t likely to agree. We will know for certain next week when the House releases its budget plan.
The Democrats have talked of the need to raise taxes to produce more revenue for education and to offset the need to cut current programs, as the Republicans have proposed.
The Senate plan is a solid foundation on which to move the process forward. The debate, followed by reconciliation, is at hand.
The Legislature, it seems, is finally moving forward with a real plan to fully fund basic education as the state Supreme Court has mandated.