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Spin Control

WA Leg Day 4: House panel votes to delay ‘levy cliff’

OLYMPIA -- The dome above the Legislative Building at the Washington Capitol, just after sunset on Jan. 11, 2017. (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA -- The dome above the Legislative Building at the Washington Capitol, just after sunset on Jan. 11, 2017. (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA -- School districts worried about making the budgets balance for the 2017-18 school year because of a scheduled cut in their property tax levies would get a 12 month reprieve under a proposal approved by the House budget committee.

On a 17-15 partisan vote, the House Appropriations Committee approved HB 1059, would move the so-called "levy cliff" from next January to the beginning of 2019. Because school districts set their budget by school years, which start in August or September, the scheduled reduction in the levy next January would affect budgets they will soon be preparing for the upcoming school year.

In 2010, as the state struggled with its budget, the Legislature passed a law giving school districts temporary authority to increase their property tax levies above the maximum usually allowed by law. For most districts, that meant raising their base to 28 percent from 24 percent.

But the law said the base would drop back at the start of 2018, to 24 percent for most districts, and by 4 percentage points in other districts that had higher bases approved before the law passed. That reduction is generally called the levy cliff by school administrators and legislators because it can represent a loss of millions of dollars to the budget of a large school district.

The Legislature is expected to make changes this year to the school levy system as part of overall changes in state support of public schools. But whether lawmakers will agree on a solution before the end of April, when districts need to begin finalizing their 2017-18 budgets, is unknown.

"They wanted early action on this," said Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, the sponsor of the bill. "A lot of schoo districts have already started creating their budget." 

Republicans who voted against the bill Thursday said they would likely support it in April if the Legislature hasn't agreed on the larger school funding issues. 

A vote in the full House, where Democrats have a two-seat majority, could come in the next week or two, Lytton said. If it passes, it would move to the Senate, where Republicans head a coalition with a one-seat majority.



Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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