Politics & Government

Senators: School property-tax changes likely to wait

A plan for shifting the cost of teacher salaries from local to statewide taxpayers has support from Republicans and Democrats — but proponents don’t expect it to pass in this session of the Legislature.

State senators agree on the price tag — $3.5 billion in new revenue — but not on where to find the money.

“I don’t know that we expect that it can get done in two weeks,” Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, told reporters Thursday, a day after she and Sen. Bruce Dammeier unveiled their levy proposal. Lawmakers wanted to “get the issue on the table and get constructive feedback,” Rolfes said.

Dammeier, R-Puyallup, agreed. “I don’t think it’s likely to be before the end of the month, but we have to come to grips with this issue.”

A separate debate about how to balance the state’s two-year budget has kept lawmakers in Olympia 14 days into a second 30-day overtime period. Republicans and Democrats haven’t been able to agree on whether to raise taxes. Without a budget by June 30, much of state government would shut down.

State Supreme Court justices are watching both issues. The state is in contempt of court for not meeting the justices’ demand for a plan for how to fully fund public schools.

Lawmakers are poised to add at least $1.3 billion in the two-year budget to pay for basic school needs. The $3.5 billion state senators now want to add would be on top of that, and would be phased in over future budgets.

The state is supposed to pay for basic education, including teachers’ salaries. Because state funding has fallen short, school districts have supplemented teacher pay using their local property-tax levies — creating major disparities in salaries and tax rates from one district to another.

Lawmakers want to raise new state revenue while setting tighter limits on local levy rates. Suggestions for the state contribution have included raising the statewide common-schools levy by more than $1 per $1,000 in assessed property value — part of a previous plan from Dammeier — or imposing a 7 percent tax on capital gains of more than $250,000 per individual or $500,000 per couple, as proposed by Senate Democrats.

A separate plan by Democrats who control the state House would only set deadlines for decisions on levy reform.

The new levy proposal from Dammeier and Rolfes is more specific, but still sidesteps the question of revenue. However, the senators said they would have to decide on a revenue source before the proposal can pass.

“You most likely need to raise it with a variety of different sources,” Rolfes said.