As the property tax notices are being slipped into mailboxes across Washington state, some folks are annoyed — particularly if their home is valued at $1 million or more.
Of course, homes in the seven-figure range are a rarity in Walla Walla and the rest of Eastern Washington, but they’ve become commonplace in Seattle and its suburbs. As a result, some of the state legislators who agreed to raise the property tax 82 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to fully fund basic education as mandated by the state Supreme Court are looking for ways to placate their constituents.
Some are zeroing in on the latest state revenue forecast, which projects that the state will collect an additional $1.3 billion in revenue from existing taxes through 2021. Majority Democrats have made a budget proposal to spend $403 million in reserves to make a one-time, 31-cent cut to the state property-tax rate for the 2019 calendar year.
That is a horrible idea.
The anticipated new revenue is merely anticipated. It’s not been collected.
Beyond that, the state has not gotten a final OK from the Supreme Court on its effort to fully fund education. The court was irked that lawmakers will not meet the September deadline to have the funding plan in place.
And draining reserves is generally a lousy idea — particularly for purely political purposes.
Giving the Seattle area taxpayers a one-year break on their tax bills won’t placate them (although that seems to be the goal of the Democrats who represent them). It will just fuel their anger when they are forced to write a bigger check in 2020.
Instead, lawmakers need to stick by their original plan, which is the 82-cent hike this year followed by a cap of locally approved levies to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value starting in 2019. The net decrease for Walla Walla taxpayers would then be $1.19 per $1,000, or $208 per year on a home valued at $175,000, the average assessed value of property in this area.
The numbers aren’t as friendly to those living west of the Cascades. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable that much of the money to fully fund basic education is coming from those who can most afford to pay more in taxes — those living in very expensive houses. That approach to taxes has been the mantra of many Democrats over the years.
Meanwhile, the projected new revenue of $1.3 billion should either be saved in case the economy tanks, or it should be used to pay down the state’s growing debt, which was wisely suggested by state Treasurer Duane Davidson, a Republican.
Davidson, who served four terms as Benton County treasurer, said the state has $21 billion in debt, making it the nation’s sixth-most indebted on a per-resident basis, according to S&P Global Ratings.
Using this windfall to buy political capital for lawmakers, as Democrats seem to suggest, would be a mistake.