State Legislature works on school levy lid changes

February 23, 2010

By Laura Geggel

The Legislature is working on two bills that could either raise or lower local levy lids, changing the amount a school district could tax voters.The first bill, introduced by Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, and co-sponsored by state Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, would revamp the way the state funds public K-12 education. Senate Bill 6858 would lower local levy rates by 12 percent for all districts and proportionately increase the state’s share of the property tax by 88 cents in 2011.

This would generate $828 million a year statewide, enough money at the state level to cover basic school district costs, such as pupil transportation, maintenance and supplies, and lower property tax bills in a majority of Washington’s 295 public school districts, according to a news release from Pflug’s office.

“People would see their local school levy lid go down, but the state portion of the property tax would have a corresponding increase,” Pflug said in the release.

Such a move would give schools a more predictable source of funding, she said, calling local levies “a huge burden for local taxpayers” and a financial challenge for school districts to run every few years.

Besides, the state constitution “envisioned those levies being for extras, not for basic education,” Pflug said. “This takes us back in the direction of the constitutional requirement.”

If passed, the state would begin collecting higher taxes through its state property tax levy. Now, the state is not collecting its full amount in property tax, Pflug said.

“At a time when the governor is proposing significant cuts to K-12 education funding, this is a big win,” Pflug said in the release. “With this approach, almost two-thirds of our school districts will receive more funds. In our community, taxpayers will see very little change in their total bill. It’s not a panacea, but it meets the constitution’s directive that funding for basic education be uniform across the state.”

The bill would also change the way the state pays for school transportation, protecting it from budget cuts, Pflug said.

Senate Bill 6858 had a hearing Feb. 22 before the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. The legislative session ends March 11.

The second bill, House Bill 2893, would change school taxes in a different way for the next six years. If passed, bill 2893 would increase local maintenance and operation levy lids by 4 percent, increase local effort assistance by 2 percent and restore school district levy bases.

A base is calculated by adding the money school districts receive from the state and federal government. If the base shrinks, as it is predicted to this year with the state’s $2.8 billion deficit, then the district cannot collect as many local taxes.

Now, the Issaquah School District has a levy lid of 24.9. If bill 2893 passes, it would be able to raise its levy lid to 28.9 percent.

Prior to the district’s levy package vote Feb. 9, board members voted to increase the amount requested for collection to include the passage of the bill. If the bill doesn’t pass, the district is only allowed to collect what is approved by current law.

The bill passed the House 55-41 Feb. 13, and both Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, and Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, voted against it.

“The reasons I voted against it is the way the bill was structured is that property-rich districts would be able to expand their local levy collection, however property-poor districts would not be able to,” Anderson said.

“People want to make sure their schools have a safety net for funding because of the state’s budget crisis,” he added. “I’m not sure that translates into more taxes.”

The Senate has yet to vote on the companion bill.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 221, or lgeggel@snovalleystar.com. Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink contributed to this report. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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