As much as I appreciate Danny Westneat’s column today on how I-1033 is “a windfall for the rich,” there is one point on which I feel the need to elaborate.
(Eyman’s initiative doesn’t apply to school, fire, park and library districts, which could continue to levy property taxes as always.)
Well, not exactly true. While I-1033 does exclude junior districts from its limitations, it is misleading on two counts to say that it doesn’t apply to school districts, and would allow them to levy property taxes as always.
First of all, I-1033 only reduces taxes from regular levies, that is, that portion of your property tax bill for which local and state governments do not require the approval of voters. The state constitution limits regular levies to a total of no more than 1% of your property value, and this maximum levy authority is divvied up by statute between the various senior and junior districts. (Due to I-747’s arbitrary one-percent cap on regular levy revenue growth, few if any districts are anywhere near their statutory cap at the moment.)
Local school districts however, have no regular levy, and must therefore go to voters every few years for all the property tax they raise. Thus far from benefiting from a rare fit of responsibility on the part of Eyman, school levies are only excluded from I-1033 by their very nature.
But that said, I-1033 does not in fact allow school districts to continue to levy property taxes as always, as Westneat implies, and to understand why, you need only read his column a little further:
In August, the state Office of Financial Management estimated that in 2015, Eyman’s initiative would force the state to refund $1.8 billion in property taxes. What the fiscal note didn’t say — and which got no mention that I could find anywhere — is that the state only collects $1.8 billion in property taxes.
It all goes to public schools. In Olympia they call it the “state school levy.” What this means is that state economic forecasters have predicted Eyman’s initiative would eliminate most if not all of the state school levy in five, maybe six years. That would be 25 percent of state school funding — gone.
And since state funding accounts for about 75-percent of K-12 education spending, any substantial cut in state revenues results in a substantial cut in education spending at the local level… and a steeper cut than one might immediately imagine.
As I’ve repeatedly explained, the amount of money school districts are allowed to raise via local levies is capped by statute at 24% of the total they receive in combined state and federal funding (as high as 33% in a handful of districts). That means that if state funding drops 25%, so too will the amount of money local districts are allowed to raise.
For districts that don’t currently levy anywhere near their statutory lid, a cut in state funding would not affect their ability to raise local revenues at current levels. But for the many districts whose levies are currently at or near their lid, a substantial cut in state funding would necessarily reduce local property tax levies as well, producing a double funding whammy for these schools. That is the nature of local school levies in Washington state, and so it is misleading to say that I-1033 would have no impact on funding at the local level.
Yeah, I know, it’s a pretty technical distinction, but an important one nonetheless, and one which unfortunately our media has totally glossed over in reporting on the impact of I-1033.