Students across Washington “are the real winners” in the apparent victory of a constitutional amendment to make it easier to pass school levies, the head of the state teachers union said Wednesday.
A staunch opponent and member of the state House thinks the passage of the simple-majority measure could help touch off a taxpayer revolt that brings grief to schools in the long run.
But Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association, and state Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, agreed on this Wednesday afternoon:
It’s virtually certain that EHJR 4204 will have passed when all votes are counted.
The measure, which looked like it could fail on election night Nov. 6, increased its relatively small but significant lead as more mail-in votes were tallied across the state Wednesday.
With about 1.5 million votes counted, 4204 was passing with 50.36 percent of the vote – about 11,200 ballots ahead – Wednesday evening.
“We are indeed declaring victory,” Lindquist said. “The trends have been very positive – in fact, increasingly so each day.”
An estimated 43,000 ballots are yet to be counted, but they lie mostly in counties that favored the measure. The election is to be certified Nov. 27.
Orcutt, who helped write the voters’ pamphlet statement in opposition to 4204, said he thought “it would take a pretty big miracle for it to fail at this point.”
The measure would replace the 60 percent supermajority requirement for school levies with a simple majority, or 50-percent-plus-one-rule. It wouldn’t apply to school bond elections.
Levies typically provide 15 to 20 percent of a school district’s budget.
School officials long have said it was unfair to require a higher bar for educational funding than for some other types of voter-approved taxes.
Historical figures show most school levies won approval on the first try, even with the supermajority requirement.
But since 1999, 148 were rerun after getting more than 50 percent but less than 60 percent of the vote, according to the League of Education Voters.
Some $2.7 million was spent on the rerun elections.
“The cost of running multiple elections is just devastating,” financially and emotionally, said Bethel School Board member Joy Cook.
Washington voters upheld the supermajority requirement half a dozen times since its inception 75 years ago. School supporters rejoiced when the 2007 Legislature put the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot, believing this the best chance in the last three decades to change the law.
“It has been a long, long struggle,” Lindquist said. “A lot of people kept that flame alive.”
The Simple Majority for Our Schools campaign amassed $2.7 million in cash donations and another $442,636 in in-kind contributions, according to state Public Disclosure Commission records. Volunteers made hundreds of thousands of get-out-the-vote phone calls.
The probable end result elated Tacoma School Board member Kurt Miller.
“It’s an amazing turnaround,” he said. “I’m really excited.”
Tacoma got voter approval for a four-year levy on its second try last year, but rerunning the election cost the district $160,000 that could have been spent elsewhere, officials said.
Making it easier to pass levies will give community volunteers, parents, teachers and other school leaders “more time to focus on education,” Miller said.
Rep. Orcutt thinks tax-weary homeowners should be wary of anything that makes it easier to levy more taxes on their property.
The simple-majority measure, combined with the state Supreme Court’s ruling last week on I-747 that lifted a 1 percent annual increase on property taxes and the Legislature’s passage of a law allowing multiple-year levy lid lifts, make it “quite possible that the perfect storm is brewing and that the taxpayers will revolt,” he said.
If that happens, schools and other taxing districts could find themselves facing “far greater restrictions than they’ve ever, ever seen before,” Orcutt added.
Bethel’s Cook says she believes discriminating voters saw the distinction between approving a rule making it easier to pass levies and voting for an immediate tax increase.
Passage of 4204 shouldn’t let the state off the hook for its education-funding responsibility, Lindquist said.
“This is a great victory for the students in our schools, but we are still a long ways from having an ample, reliable revenue source that’s appropriate for the 21st-century student,” Lindquist said.
Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659