|As has been discussed in previous email updates, part of 2017’s historic education funding reforms included changes to how property taxes are used to pay for public schools.
As a reminder, most school funding comes from state and local property tax levies. Decades of the Legislature neglecting to prioritize public education prior to 2012 led to school districts using local education levies to pay for what was the state’s responsibility. This practice led to significant inequities across districts in both the amount of money for students and the amount paid by community residents.
In previous years Auburn, Kent, Covington, Federal Way and Renton residents paid more than three times the local education property tax rates as those in areas with higher home values like Seattle, Mercer Island, and Bellevue. Even at a much higher rate, the amount generated per student was still less.
Last year, as part of a bipartisan compromise, the Legislature increased the state education property tax rate and then capped the amount that can be collected in local levies. While this policy has a different outcome for homeowners in each of the state’s 295 school districts, it meant a net education property tax reduction for roughly 70 percent of the state — including all of Auburn, Kent, Covington, Renton, and Federal Way residents — in 2019 and beyond.
However, transitioning 295 different school districts across 39 counties within the constraints of a $44 billion state budget (each with different fiscal years) was complicated. In the Senate, we originally proposed a small overlap to ensure funding streams remained in place, while only using what was necessary to minimize the impact on taxpayers. However, as a result of negotiations with the House of Representatives, we had to compromise and increased the state rate for one full year before local levies were capped in 2019.
This was one of the factors that led to a property tax increase for all Washingtonians in 2018, along with higher home values and other local voter-approved levies.
While South King County residents were already set to see some of the state’s largest education property tax reductions in 2019 and beyond it also turned out we did not need the one-year overlap in 2018. This was due to an incredibly strong state economy, which provided the Legislature with an opportunity to eliminate the one-time 2018 increase, moving the existing property tax cut for South King County homeowners one year earlier.
I cosponsored and advocated for a plan to provide nearly $1 billion of statewide property tax relief that still protected and enhanced our investments in education and other important state services.
Under our plan, the owner of a median value home in Auburn would pay $1,566 in education property taxes in 2018 as opposed to the $1,973 they were slated to under the original bipartisan compromise. That’s $35 less than what was paid in 2017. In 2019 that home — despite being worth more money — would see its education property tax bill go down by another $159.
Unfortunately, the final property tax relief plan passed by the Legislature was only 22% of what I proposed for Auburn residents. In addition to coming up short on the total amount, it also doesn’t go into effect until 2019, a time when South King County homeowners already see meaningful tax relief, instead of this year when it was actually needed.
Even further, instead of paying for it with robust revenue growth of $2.3 billion in unexpected tax revenues, legislative majorities funded it by sidestepping constitutional protections for extraordinary revenues.
Fortunately, our long-term education-tax reforms are still in place and create a much more equitable statewide education financing system. However, this year legislative majorities missed an opportunity to fully implement it ahead of schedule, bringing relief to South King County homeowners during this one-year education property tax spike.