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Property Tax Limitation Bill Confronts Locke Decision On Signing Due Next Week; Fears Legislation Will Be Too Costly

Mon., Feb. 17, 1997

Gov. Gary Locke, who last week warned Republican lawmakers that a long-promised tax cut for businesses is in doubt, must decide this week whether to sign a bill that limits future increases in property taxes.

The Legislature last week sent the governor SB5212, which would put new limits on property tax rates and assessments in any taxing district with a population of more than 10,000.

Republican backers contend the measure will save property owners increasingly larger sums in coming years. Democratic foes complained that it will deliver relatively little to homeowners.

Locke has sent mixed signals on whether he will sign the bill. A decision is due by midweek.

The governor has said that he likes the measure. But he noted that, when combined with an earlier tax cut measure he signed last month, the cost would swallow about $220 million of a revenue surplus Locke figures is no greater than $400 million.

He’s concerned that the Republican-controlled Legislature may spend too much of the surplus on property tax cuts before the promised $202 million cut in the business-and-occupation tax even reaches his desk.

The Senate is expected to vote on the B&O; cut this week.

Senate leaders say Locke has underestimated the amount of the surplus by about $70 million, which means there’s plenty of money for substantial property tax relief and a reduction in the state business and occupation tax.

If Locke vetoes the property tax bill, House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, and Senate Majority Leader Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue, have promised to bypass the governor and send the measure straight to voters in the form of a referendum.

That’s the route they took last month with the earlier property tax cut. Locke agreed to a reduction worth about $18 to the owner of a $100,000 home, but refused to make the cut effective beyond this year, so lawmakers will ask voters in November if they want to make it permanent.

In other action this week, Locke is expected to veto legislation that would make Washington the 18th state to ban gay marriages. Backers say they’re ready to approve the measure again, this time with a referendum clause attached that would let voters resolve this issue as well.

Many state employees will spend Monday’s Presidents Day holiday at a Capitol rally to draw attention to their request for a pay raise.

Locke, who is scheduled to speak at the rally, has said he supports salary increases for state workers, although he has not mentioned a specific percentage.

Republicans will unveil a proposal to get tough with juvenile criminals on Monday. The plan gets its first hearing the next day by the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee and the House Law and Justice Committee.

Other legislative hearings will be held this week on bills dealing with welfare, ballot initiatives and violent teenage criminals.

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