Politics & Government

With a revenue increase on the horizon, one key GOP senator suggests a property-tax cut

Washington’s projected tax collections are up, and one Republican state senator says that money should go toward easing the pain of the new state property-tax increases.

Lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee this year approved a boost to the state property tax to fund Washington’s K-12 school system.

That hike — which raises $7.3 billion in state revenue over four years but cuts some local property-tax levels — was part of a K-12 school-funding plan that aims to comply with a state Supreme Court ruling.

Under the plan, homeowners across the state would see a property-tax hike in 2018, with an overall reduction in property taxes in some areas beginning in 2019.

On Wednesday, the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council announced that higher-than-expected tax collections are projected to add more than $530 million to the state’s bottom line through 2021.

In a news release citing the projections, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said lawmakers could use surplus money to ease the burden of next year’s property-tax increase.

“With the Legislature having already passed a budget that balances for the next four years, this would provide us with an opportunity to fully fund state government while reducing the impact on working families and people with fixed incomes,” Braun, the chief GOP Senate budget writer, said.

“Having heard similar concerns about property-tax increases from the governor and my Democratic colleagues, I expect we will see bipartisan support for this proposal,” Braun said.

Even before the school plan passed the Legislature in June, some Democrats were discussing the possibility of reducing the property-tax hike if they regain control of the state Senate in a key November election.

Inslee this summer joined that chorus.

But Wednesday, Inslee’s office and Democratic House Majority Leader Rep. Pat Sullivan of Covington said the extra dollars are needed to plug holes in the existing budget.

Lawmakers in their last-minute 2017-19 operating-budget agreement, “rushed the budget through with very little time for review and there are problems and mistakes in the budget as a result,” Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee wrote in an email. “Additional revenue will need to be directed to making those adjustments in the budget.”

Savings assumed in the budget at the state Health Care Authority aren’t expected to materialize, according to Lee and Sullivan.

The budget also assumed savings through a bill related to criminal sentencing and the state Department of Corrections, according to Lee, but that bill never passed.

Other circumstances could change before lawmakers begin looking at a supplemental operating budget early next year, Sullivan said.

“Obviously, we thought the property-tax increase was too high,” Sullivan said, adding later: “I’m glad they’re recognizing the fact it’s high.”

In its 2012 McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court ruled that Washington violated its own constitution by underfunding public schools. Lawmakers since then have put billions of dollars into the K-12 system, and struggled until this year to draft a full school-funding plan.

The court is scheduled to hold a hearing Oct. 24 on the state’s McCleary efforts.

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