The 1997 Legislature won’t convene until Monday, but already it is signaling its desire to cut property taxes significantly this year amid healthy revenues and a limit on state spending.
Minority Democrats, scoring the first blow in a partisan fight over which party is most anxious to cut the tax, proposed Monday a $205-per-year property-tax break for all Washington homeowners.
Majority Republicans were quick to accuse the Democrats of stealing the idea, claiming it had been proposed late in last year’s session by Senate Republicans.
But they nevertheless said they are intrigued with the proposal. So did Democratic Gov.-elect Gary Locke.
Under the plan, voters would be asked in November to amend the state constitution to allow the state to grant a property-tax credit against $62,000 in assessed value for each piece of residential property.
The credit would apply only to the state’s share of the property tax and would be worth $205 a year to every homeowner. It would cost the state treasury about $441 million in a two-year budget cycle. It would not apply to business properties.
Amid tax-cutting largesse in recent years, the average homeowner has been shortchanged as big business, especially manufacturers, have won substantial sales and business tax cuts, Democratic leaders said at a news conference.
“One voice that is never heard is that poor guy out there … who pays a substantial part of the property tax bill in this state,” said Sen. Valoria Loveland, D-Pasco.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Jim West, R-Spokane, said the proposal was first floated last year by Senate Republicans, who were thwarted by the then-Democratic majority.
“It (the proposal) is still under consideration, but where were the Democrats last year?” he said.
West said the majority Republicans would want to see specifics of the proposal, but added that “it is an idea well worth considering.”
Republicans, who will control both legislative houses of the Legislature for the first time in more than 15 years, have been promising property tax relief. But leaders have said it may come in the form of slower growth in tax increases in future years rather than reductions now.
“I guess the thing I can say is, we would be very interested in ideas for property tax relief aimed at moderate- and middle-income homeowners. We aren’t really familiar enough with the particulars and the scope to comment beyond that,” said Locke spokesman Bruce Botka.
Senate Minority Leader Sid Snyder, D-Long Beach, said he hoped Republicans would go along with the plan, which he said would substantially benefit middle- and low-income homeowners.
“Mobile-home owners especially would benefit,” he said.
Snyder and House Minority Leader Marlin Appelwick, D-Seattle, said healthy tax revenues are more than sufficient to finance the tax cut and still leave enough money to pay for state government within the limits of spending limit Initiative 601.
The Democrats said the state also would still be able to afford a $205 million rollback in the state business-and-occupation tax, something that Locke and Republicans both have promised.