The state House approved a bill Thursday extending school levy rates for a year. But some members warned they won’t do it again and hinted taxpayers were tricked into believing the levy rate was allowed, when it wasn’t.
The 24 percent levy lid was due to expire before the money could be collected, unless the Legislature acted to extend it. Some school districts assumed the extension when they went to voters for approval of levies.
The levy lid limits the amount of money school districts can raise through local property taxes.
Until 1993, districts couldn’t collect from local taxpayers more than 20 percent of the total amount of money they received from the state and federal governments.
The Legislature that year allowed districts to take an additional 4 percent from local taxes for the 1993-95 biennium.
The bill approved Thursday extends the 24 percent levy lid for one more year only, instead of two years as the Senate wanted to do. The House bill passed on a 79-16 vote. It now goes to the Senate for final approval.
Schools in Spokane County warned they would lose $12 million in property taxes that voters already approved unless the Legislature continued the 24 percent levy lid.
Some legislators balked at the tax increase of 4 percent, even though voters in some districts already had approved spending at that level.
“Schools are back at the trough,” said Rep. Tim Hickel, R-Federal Way. “Many of us were sent here to provide tax relief and a vote for this is a vote to raise the property tax by 4 percent, and that hurts people living on fixed income.”
Rep. James Hargrove, R-Poulsbo, said legislators let school districts “put them in a box.”
“You are ratcheting up the cost of education by creating a new baseline of spending.”
Rep. Jean Silver, R-Spokane, said the Legislature needs to look at the problem of ever-rising levy rates. But she argued schools are now counting on the money, so the rules shouldn’t be changed.
“Voters have already agreed to this,” Silver said.
In levy elections last year, Spokane-area school districts asked for the maximum 24 percent. The two-year levies approved that year were for taxes to be collected in 1995 and 1996.