A majority of the state Senate’s Democrats have launched a surprise attack on one of the best friends Washington taxpayers have: the voter-endorsed law that limits the growth of property taxes to no more than 1% per year.
The 20 Democratic senators who filed Senate Bill 5770 on April 12 — just 11 days from the end of this year’s session — want to triple that limit starting in 2024. It would apply to both the state property tax levy and any local property tax levy.
The state Department of Revenue estimates raising the annual levy-growth cap to 3% will cost the people of Washington a whopping $12 billion more over the next decade.
This is wrong on so many levels.
Start with the lack of any justification for a tax increase of any size. State government has more than enough revenue to maintain current services and programs.
As proof, the Senate and House have already passed competing versions of a budget to pay for the next two years of state government operations. Neither relies on new taxes to balance. The same ought to be true for the compromise budget being negotiated by the two chambers.
Then there are hints in the bill that money from raising the property tax would help local governments with public safety needs and help the state pay for special education. To put it nicely, that’s baloney.
We all see what Democrats think about public safety. Just look at how, in this legislative session alone, they have resisted Republican efforts to put some teeth into Washington’s disastrous drug-possession law and reform the criminal-friendly restrictions on police pursuits.
Also, support for special education students is covered by the Legislature’s number one constitutional duty, which is to provide for education. We should never, ever have to depend on some new tax for services required by the state constitution. Those should be paid for before any other programs.
If that’s not enough, we regularly hear Democrats complain how Washington’s tax system is “regressive,” meaning lower income people pay a larger amount of their income in taxes than people with higher incomes. It’s pure hypocrisy for them to support any legislation that would increase property taxes, which are among the most regressive taxes there are. Ask any senior who is on a fixed income.
What takes the cake is how Democrats behind this tax-raising scheme are suspending what the rest of us know as reality: Higher property taxes translate into higher housing costs, for homeowners and renters alike. Out of one side of their mouths they speak about wanting “affordable homes for every Washingtonian,” yet out of the other side they say property taxes aren’t high enough.
Republicans agree that our state has a shortage of homes people can afford. That falls within one of our priorities for this legislative session, which is to address Washington’s affordability crisis. While progress is being made on policies that would help increase the supply of housing, Republicans also believe legislators should be looking to lower property taxes — not raise them.
That’s why we have proposed bills to reduce property taxes in a way that would result in savings for all, and offer larger savings to owners of lower-value property. Democrats won’t seriously consider them.
Although this push for higher property taxes is coming close to the end of the session, we have to view it as a serious threat. In 2019, a huge new tax on financial institutions surfaced 48 hours before that year’s session ended, and Democrats pushed it through. A majority of the yes votes in the Senate then came from Democrats who are still here.
House Democrats aren’t innocent, either. A majority of them sponsored House Bill 1628, which would raise the state’s real estate excise tax (REET). After sitting dormant for nearly two months, that bill started moving again this past week.
Being on the minority side, it’s difficult for Republicans to predict where any of this is going to land. Lifting the property tax growth limit to 3%, up from 1%, is going to cost Washington taxpayers many billions of dollars and make housing less affordable. Increasing the REET will also increase the cost of housing, just in a different way than jacking up the property tax.
It’s amazing how the Democrats’ idea of tax reform always seems to put government’s desires ahead of the people. But if the majority party thought it would keep these tax proposals below the radar, guess again. Taxpayers are now on alert.
No one who has been listening to the families of our state, as they deal with the high prices of food, energy, housing and more, would conclude that raising property taxes is a good idea.
Either way the bottom line is simple: raising property taxes would make the affordability crisis in our state worse, lifting the 1% cap on annual growth goes against the will of the voters, and to say it again, state government doesn’t need more money.
We must do better.
Sen. John Braun of Centralia serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.