School taxes. Most people want to support K-12 education. Most want the best for students. Most agree that spreading the cost across all property owners (whether or not every household has children in school) is a good idea.
But…when is enough tax money enough? In Southwest Washington State school districts have, over the past 3-4 years, gotten taxpayers to pony up a LOT of money for schools. Money for M&O (Maintenance and Operations) and school bonds to repair and replace schools. Indeed the Vancouver district has gotten over $1 billion in bond money and every M&O levy passes (with each increasing every time it goes to a vote). Evergreen got nearly $1 billion in capital bond money. Other districts have created “new” levies…Tech Levies…in addition to M&O.
Recently the Battle Ground district tried to get a capital bond..3x..and failed. Ridgefield got voters to approve a capital bond that was wasn’t enough and came back 2x asking for more money…and failed. Other districts throughout the state have asked for more money…and failed. So, have taxpayers had enough?
In the following article from The Washington Policy Institute article written by Liv Finne she shares some other examples across the state where taxpayers have said…enough!
State property taxes doubled in three years; now voters are rejecting even higher school taxes
On August 4th Snohomish voters rejected expensive bond and levy measures proposed by school board members in Everett Public Schools, Lakewood Public Schools and Darrington Public Schools. It appears voters may have reached the limit of school taxes they are willing to pay for an education system that offers families few choices and often produces poor learning outcomes for children.
It’s no wonder. My research shows the actual state property tax for schools in Snohomish County has doubled in three years while the level of academic achievement for kids hardly improved at all.
Here is the background.
In 2017, the state legislature passed a huge tax increase for schools, boosting the property tax rate from $1.89 to $2.40 per each thousand dollars of assessed value. For most homeowners that means a double-hit tax increase, since the higher rate is imposed on a higher assessed value every year.
In 2018, lawmakers increased the state property tax rate again, this time by thirty cents to $2.70 per thousand. Then in 2019 the legislature authorized school officials to increase the added local property tax from $1.50 to $2.50 per thousand of assessed value.
Of course, most people’s taxes go up by far more than just the rate increase because the “assessed value” of one’s home increases every year. Together these three property tax increases dramatically raised the amount of money school district officials get.
I examined property taxes paid in Snohomish County. The first home I looked at in Snohomish County was assessed at $400,000 in 2017, a typical home value for this area. That year the family who owns this home paid $808 in the state property tax for schools. This year, in 2020, this family will pay $1,635 for the state property tax for schools. This is a 102 percent in three years.
This home is not unusual. I examined the increase in state property taxes for all the homes in Snohomish County assessed at $400,000 in 2017.
It is shocking for homeowners, especially for those living on fixed incomes. The median increase in the state property tax for schools in Snohomish County was 91 percent, from $808 in 2017 to $1,542 in 2020. This is a far greater rate of increase than, say, the cost of health insurance.
Families have clearly reached the limit of taxes they can pay. Even without the pandemic, these are extraordinarily large increases in the property tax burden. The economic shut-down has made things even harder. Families are being forced to tighten their belts and prioritize their spending just to meet the basics of life, without having to give even more to government officials.
The current reality has put a strain on family budgets. Families are reorienting their spending to do what is best for their children and grandchildren. Families need financial relief, not higher property taxes.
District officials are now worried that the school levies and bonds they send to voters in 2021 or 2022 will be rejected. Certainly this is a time for school officials to start controlling their spending, not for thinking about increasing the tax burden on Washington’s working families.
The August 4 primary vote sent a powerful message.
Citizens want to protect themselves from legislators and school officials who are out of touch with the economic pressures and pain families in Washington are currently suffering. The legislature should provide families with tax relief, and place limits on amounts school districts can seek from taxpayers in higher levy and bond property taxes.
Voters are clearly willing to demand these limits at the ballot box, one way or another.