It’s been less than a year since the Legislature approved its plan to fully fund basic education, as mandated by the state Supreme Court in its McCleary ruling.
Yet, as the Legislature prepares to start its 2019 session on Monday, it seems some lawmakers want to alter that plan after being counseled (or scolded) by their constituents. So, too, does the governor.
From our perspective — the southeastern corner of the state — an overhaul is going to create new problems and a huge backlash from taxpayers.
Lawmakers sold the McCleary deal to their constituents with the understanding that statewide property taxes would be increased to add billions of dollars to basic education funding, but the local levy rate would be capped as a way to mitigate that tax hike.
On this side of the Cascades, and in Walla Walla in particular, the reduction in the levy rate should result in a net tax cut for property owners starting next year. Walla Wallans saw their basic education assessment rise 82 cents — from $1.97 per $1,000 to $2.79 — last year. That was supposed to be offset by lowering the current $3.51 rate for the local level to the $1.50 cap, resulting in about a $2 per $1,000 savings in 2019.
But Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed 2019-21 budget calls for more taxes and spending $4.1 billion for education. He wants to repeal the cap on locally approved school levies and he wants to restore levy equalization funds for less-affluent school districts. The Washington Education Association also wants to restore local levy flexibility.
The current angst over school funding isn’t a surprise to us. To the contrary, when the Supreme Court ruled the plan satisfied McCleary, we wrote “the shift in funding from local taxpayers to the state means that some tough decisions on what to fund had to be made and more will have to be made in the future.”
Yet, some lawmakers and the governor aren’t wanting to make the unpopular calls. They want to boost revenue (taxes) and spend more and more.
Some lawmakers, particularly from the Puget Sound area, have gotten an earful from constituents about the 82 cents per $1,000 added on their property taxes for modest homes valued at $1 million (that’s an extra $820 a year) or more. As a result, they have favored giving a property tax break (albeit temporarily) to quell the uproar.
Democrats have long said, and we tend to agree, that those who have the most money should pay the most taxes.
While those living in $1 million homes might not feel wealthy, their equity is substantially higher than the value of average homes in rural areas of the state.
We don’t hear those living in Seattle, Bellevue and Kirkland complaining about the equity in their homes. They have no reason to complain about paying the same tax as those living in Walla Walla.
Lawmakers should stick with the original plan, including capping of local levies, and make the tough decisions necessary.