As published Friday, Oct. 8, in The News Tribune (Tacoma):
Taxpayers are regularly asked to raise their own taxes by approving local levies. They are rarely given an opportunity to lower their tax burden. So here’s a timely question: If you could vote to exempt the first $250,000 of your property value from state property taxes without harming state-run public services, would you?
A bipartisan group of legislators and other public officials known as the Tax Structure Work Group has just kicked off a series of seven virtual town halls, arranged by legislative districts. For residents of Tacoma and Pierce County, the town halls are Oct. 13 (2nd and 26th legislative districts) and Nov. 3 (25th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st legislative districts). At these meetings, you can speak in support of the bipartisan $250,000 exemption that’s already been proposed, in the form of Senate Bill 5463/House Bill 1579, or weigh in on other proposals.
Since the Legislature adjourned in April, state revenues for the relevant fiscal period are projected to be nearly $6 billion higher than budgeted. During our next regular session, which begins in January, our colleagues on the majority side could spend every dime of the windfall, as they’ve done before. Unfortunately, this spend-it-all approach has caused the state operating budget to almost double in less than a decade, and grow four times faster than the average worker wage.
Or, they could join those of us who want to put this financial bonanza toward property-tax relief for homeowners. SB 5463/HB 1579 and an accompanying constitutional amendment, SJR 8206, would accomplish that for millions of Washingtonians without jeopardizing important public services.
For average Washington homeowners, this would offer substantial relief: exempting the first $250,000 of assessed value from state property taxes would cut their state property-tax burden by roughly half.
This tax relief also would be equitable, in that no homeowner would be left out. The owner of a $1 million home would see a 25% reduction, while the owner of a $250,000 home would see state property taxes disappear – completely! Our colleagues on the majority side would call that “progressive”; to us, it’s simply a case of treating property owners fairly.
If the voters placed this tax relief in the state constitution, it would be protected from the impulses of future legislatures, just as the state rainy-day fund is. Making it constitutional also would prevent the exemption from being coupled with higher taxes on commercial and industrial property. Otherwise, legislators could simply offset the tax relief by shifting it to employers. That would discourage job creation and make Washington businesses less competitive.
SB 5463/HB 1579/SJR 8206 would provide an estimated $3 billion in property-tax relief to Washington families, workers, and seniors in the relevant budget period. That’s well within the projected revenue windfall, so again, it can be done without harming existing state services. Olympia simply needs to make this proposed policy a priority.
It’s not often that legislators are faced with a substantial amount of unexpected revenue. When it happens, they’re bombarded by special interests arguing for more spending in a particular area. Wouldn’t it be nice if the interests of the taxpayers prevailed this time, especially as so many are trying to survive the economic effects of the ongoing pandemic?
If you believe it’s time to provide Washington families and seniors with broad-based property-tax relief while protecting public services, take part in one of the tax structure town halls and make your voice heard.
For details about participating in the Tax Structure Work Group town halls, visit taxworkgroup.org/tax-town-halls.
Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, is prime sponsor of SB 5463/SJR 8206 and Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, is prime sponsor of HB 1358 and other legislation to provide property-tax relief; he is Republican leader on the House Finance Committee.