OLYMPIA… In what amounts to the ninth inning of the 2023 legislative session, more than two-thirds of the state Senate’s majority Democrats have slid an extreme tax-increase proposal into the lineup of bills still in play.
Senate Bill 5770 would raise the limit on increases in state and local property taxes to 3% per year, without voter approval. It would replace the 1% annual cap established by Washington voters in 2001 through Initiative 747, and reenacted by a Democrat-controlled Legislature in a 2007 special session after the state Supreme Court invalidated the I-747 law.
The 20 Democrats sponsoring the new tax scheme include five of the eight Democratic senators behind SB 5618, a similar tax increase that died in the Senate local-government committee in mid-February. A similar House bill, HB 1670, has been parked in the House Rules Committee since Feb. 23.
Because Democrats include the state property tax in the bill, which affects state revenues, it is exempt from today’s cutoff for non-budget legislation. Because it was filed today, SB 5770 is also exempt from a constitutional provision that requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to introduce bills during the final 10 days of the session.
Sen. Lynda Wilson of Vancouver is Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. She offered this reaction:
“Governments can always find more ways to spend the taxpayers’ money, but come on – state government already takes more from the people than it needs, and local governments can’t plead poverty either. Over the past decade the 30 largest cities in Washington and state government itself have seen their revenue grow more than 6%, and county governments are not far behind. The high rate of inflation alone is having the opposite effect on family incomes.
“A survey by the Tax Structure Work Group created by the Legislature found people dislike property taxes even more than even an income tax. I keep introducing legislation to lower property taxes for everyone by exempting the first $250,000 value of a home from the state property tax. The Democrats keep killing it. This year they came up with a ‘me too’ bill to offer property-tax rebates, then killed it also. It’s revealing that most of the sponsors of that legislation are behind this new tax bill.
“The Democrats got their capital-gains tax. Their deeply unpopular payroll tax, which was delayed for reasons we can all guess at, is back on track for collection starting in July. They killed their own Senate bill to lift the property-tax cap to 3%, and now it’s back with a text tweak that keeps it alive through the end of the session. The Democrats keep claiming Washington’s tax code is so regressive, then they support a scheme to triple the growth rate of a regressive tax. On top of that, they drop hints in the bill that the tax would go to support public safety and criminal justice… as though they’re the party of law and order. Unbelievable.”
Senate Republican Leader John Braun of Centralia made this comment:
“Reducing the cost of living is a Republican priority for 2023, This tax would significantly increase the affordability crisis in our state. On average residents of our state already pay $6,220 annually in state and local taxes. That’s in the upper third nationwide, nearly $1,000 more than Oregon and nearly $2,100 more than Idaho. A property-tax increase not only means a higher cost of living, but when we talk about the need for housing people can afford, it also affects the ability of people to continue affording the homes they already own. Enabling property taxes to go up 3% per year instead of 1% is going to be the tipping point for some homeowners.
“As much as I would like to dismiss SB 5770 as a late-session stunt, we must take it seriously. The senators sponsoring this bill include a member of the Senate Democratic leadership team, and one of the Democratic leaders on the Senate budget committee. Also, the Democrats have a history of approving big new taxes at the last minute, as our state’s banking industry learned in 2019 – the public had not even seen that tax proposal until there were 48 hours left in the session, and yet it was pushed through.
“The opening section of this bill suggests the tax would be used to help support special education. The Legislature absolutely should be supporting special education more, and I’m proud of the bipartisan work being done this year on that, especially in the Senate – but there is no way our special-education students should ever have to depend on the passage of a new tax. They’re covered under the constitutional mandate to support basic education that is the Legislature’s paramount duty. It’s wrong for the Democrats to use them to try justifying an unjustifiable tax increase.”