OLYMPIA — The Washington House on Monday passed a bill that delays a deadline for a reduction in the amount of money school districts can collect through local property tax levies.
The measure passed the Democratic House on a 62-35 vote, including support from a dozen Republicans. It now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate. School districts had faced a reduction of four percentage points in the proportion of their base funding they could add to their budgets through local levies starting next year, but House Bill 1059 pushes that deadline off until 2019.
One of the issues the Legislature is dealing with this year is resolving the reliance on local levies to pay school staff salaries. Lawmakers are working to comply with a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that they must fully fund the state’s basic education system. Lawmakers have already put more than $2 billion toward the issue since the ruling, but the biggest piece remaining of the court order is figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries. School districts currently pay a big chunk of those salaries with the local property-tax levies.
“As we’re grappling with longer-term proposals on how we’re going to fund basic education, we want to give that near-term certainty to our school districts that they can keep doing the work that they’re doing, they can start budgeting for next year,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes.
The court has said that the state has until Sept. 1, 2018, to fully fund education, but that the details of how to do that — as well as how lawmakers will pay for it — must be in place before the Legislature adjourns this year.
Republicans who argued against the bill said that the bill takes pressure off lawmakers who are tasked with finding a solution that lessens the reliance on levies.
“The House is resigning itself to failure,” said Republican Rep. Bruce Chandler of Granger. “It’s saying it’s not even going to try to resolve the issues that lay before us in a timely manner. We can fix education. But this takes away any motivation for us to.”
Lawmakers are currently in their third week of a 105-day legislative session.