MYNORTHWEST POLITICS

Wash. lawmakers abandon proposed statewide property tax hike

Feb 9, 2024, 2:42 PM | Updated: 3:02 pm

washington property tax...

A "for sale" sign is posted in front of a home. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP File)

(Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP File)

Washington’s cap on annual property tax increases will stay the way it is, for now.

Senate Bill 5770 (SB 5770) is not moving forward this session, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, confirmed Friday. He and 18 other Democrats sponsored the legislation that would have allowed local government to impose annual tax hikes of up to 3% without voter approval. The exact amount of the yearly hike would have depended on the local jurisdiction’s population and the rate of inflation.

“We have heard the public’s concerns about property taxes,” Pedersen’s office said in a statement to KIRO Newsradio. “We recognize that we must do a better job of explaining both how the current 1% cap hamstrings local governments’ efforts to fund public safety and other essential services we all rely on and how small a portion of property taxes this policy would affect.”

The previous cap, established in 2001, limited it to 1% annually unless voters approve a change.

Fight in the legislature

Republicans fiercely opposed SB 5770. They argued this is the wrong time to consider tax hikes amid an ongoing affordable housing crisis and high cost of living.

“This is a win for the people of Washington. Senate Bill 5770 could have resulted in the largest property tax increase in our state’s history – without a vote of the people,” Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said after the announcement Friday. “This bill is overwhelmingly unpopular. People can’t afford a 3% annual increase in their property taxes. And renters can’t afford another tax that could push them out on the street.”

GOP lawmakers estimate more than 9,300 people signed up to testify about the bill in front of the legislature with 92% opposed to the increase.

Thurston County resident Christina Janice agrees the bill a big mistake.

“I have two out of three of my daughters that cannot afford homes,” Janice said. “They’re in their 30s and they cannot afford a home in Washington State.”

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Critics also argued the bill’s sponsors are misleading the public on the scope of the need for additional funds in local communities.

“They say that county government has a revenue problem,” Sen. Chris Gildon, R-Puyallup, said. “However, the data clearly shows that the property tax rate and King County alone, on average over the last decade has risen 7.84%, year after year.”

Local leaders plead for increase

City and county leaders disagree, saying that money is desperately needed. They emphasize that the current cap is not enough to keep up with inflation and population growth and warn that without the increase, essential services in communities across the state could be in jeopardy.

In his “State of the County” address last March, King County Executive Dow Constantine emphasized the cash-strapped nature of local agencies.

“Since 2001, our population has grown nearly 30%, and consumer prices are up 70% – far, far beyond where the law caps our ability to keep up,” he said. “There are countless mission-critical investments at risk. Everything from local sheriff’s deputies and Public Health clinics to programs that keep people out of the criminal legal system to environmental and farmland protection and help for survivors of domestic violence.”

In 2001, Washington voters passed Initiative 747 by a 58% percent margin, establishing the one percent cap— down from the previous limit of six percent. The Washington State Supreme Court overturned the law in 2007 on technical grounds, but the legislature convened a special session to reinstate it soon after.

Sen. Pedersen says this doesn’t end his fight to raise the cap in the future. “I have heard clearly that the status quo puts local services at risk, and I remain committed to working with our partners in counties and cities across Washington to give local governments the flexibility to make the best economic choices for their communities.” 

While the one percent cap will remain in place, voters have the freedom to raise property taxes within their own communities.

In a special election last April, King County voters approved the funding of a new network of crisis care centers through a nine-year property tax levy. Local leaders said at the time that the levy would cost the owner of a median-valued home in Seattle about $121 yearly — or about $10 a month. Seattle voters also passed a nearly-one billion dollar housing levy last November, by a resounding 66%. The measure provides funding for affordable housing construction, subsidized housing services, and rental assistance.

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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