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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

New State Property Tax Levy Will Fund Big Boost In School Funding

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Republican state Senators John Braun and Ann Rivers speak with reporters about the compromise state budget and tax plan to fully fund schools.

Details are emerging about the budget Washington state lawmakers plan to pass before midnight Friday. Over the next four years, schools in Washington will get more than $7 billion in additional state funds.

Much of that money will come from a hike in the state property tax.

Faced with a state Supreme Court mandate to fully fund schools, lawmakers went with the property tax. They decided to raise the state property tax levy by 81 cents per $1,000 of assessed value and at the same time cap local school levies at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value or $2,500 per pupil, whichever is less.

That means some homeowners—especially in central Puget Sound—will pay more. Others though could see a reduction in their taxes. The property tax plan includes a “hold harmless” clause for senior citizen property owners. 

Republican John Braun chairs the Senate budget committee and first proposed the property tax swap months ago.

“We expect that 73 percent of the state’s taxpayers will see a net property tax reduction.”

Democrats wanted a new capital gains tax, but it wasn’t to be. They said they agreed to the property tax because they’re getting the programs they wanted funded in the budget.

“I feel like it’s a Democratic budget supported by a Republican property tax,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, the top Democrat on the Senate budget committee.

The final deal does include some of the taxes Democrats proposed. For instance it requires out-of-state internet sellers to collect sales tax from Washington customers. And it ends the sales tax break for bottled water.

But it also extends some new tax breaks to businesses that Republicans wanted. And it gives all manufacturing businesses the low Boeing rate on the Business and Occupation tax.

Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, summed it up this way:

“I think it’s fair to say that middle class property taxpayers are going to really feel the increase in costs and I think it’s fair to say a lot of the business community are going to get a pretty sweetheart deal,” he said.

For all their heartburn, Democrats are quick to say the budget does right by public school kids and the vulnerable. Republican state Sen. Ann Rivers goes further. She said the new state budget will heal a school funding wound that’s been festering in Washington for 30 years.

“It addresses the concerns as expressed by the Supreme Court and even goes beyond that to really look at what’s needed to provide a world class educational system for our kids,” she said.

Much of the new money will go to pay teacher and staff salaries—a state responsibility that’s fallen to local levies in recent decades. The bipartisan deal between House Democrats and Senate Republicans sets a new, average statewide teacher salary of $64,000 and a minimum state salary for new teachers of $40,000. Those salaries would adjust based on inflation and regional differences.

The K-12 funding plan also reduces class sizes and boosts funding for high poverty schools and special education. The Washington Supreme Court will have the final say on whether the education budget passes constitutional muster.

Now the race is on to pass the budget as a July 1 government shutdown looms.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."