Governor summons lawmakers for vote on property-tax limit

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire announced Monday she is calling the Legislature back into special session Nov. 29 to enact a law imposing a 1 percent cap on annual increases in property taxes.

“The citizens of our state expect that we will expeditiously deal with this subject, and this subject only, to give them certainty about their property tax bills for the upcoming year,” she wrote party leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives.

This will be the first special session in Gregoire’s tenure. The costs are expected to be minimal because most lawmakers already planned to be in Olympia next week for regularly scheduled committee meetings.

Gregoire’s decision ends a political chess game begun Nov. 8 when the state Supreme Court tossed out the property-tax-limiting initiative approved by voters in 2001.

By invalidating Initiative 747, justices provided cities, counties and special districts an opportunity to seek increases as high as 6 percent, the legal level in effect before the initiative. Theoretically, districts could get even more if they had banked some of their taxing authority since 2001.

Gregoire called upon taxing districts not to exceed the 1 percent level and said she would work with the Legislature in ­January to “thoughtfully reinstate a property tax cap.”

Republicans criticized her comments, saying it left open the door for passing legislation less restrictive than the initiative.

On Nov. 9, Gregoire issued another statement saying I-747 should be left in place.

That didn’t keep Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, from issuing repeated public statements urging a special session. They gained strength as leaders in communities like Olympia talked about larger increases.

Monday, Rossi questioned her motives.

“I’m glad she has called the special session because we need to protect the will of the voters, but I have a feeling she only took this step out of political expediency, not concern for the taxpayers,” he said in a prepared statement.

I-747 author Tim Eyman of Mukilteo also sought swift action by lawmakers and challenged them to do right by the voters.

“I could care less what the motivations are at this point,” Eyman said Monday night. “Now the focus turns to what’s in the bill and will 1 percent ­really mean 1 percent.”

He stressed lawmakers need to not only impose a limit but also wipe away all banked capacity.

Gregoire said she intends to send two bills to the Legislature. One will reinstate the 1 percent limit and the second will provide a property tax deferral for all families under the state’s median income level.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said Monday there is support in the majority party’s caucus for keeping the property tax cap at 1 percent.

“Our intent is to go in there and reinstate it,” he said. “I believe the voters knew what they were doing. The voters were clear about their decision. We should respect that.”

Herald wire services contributed to this report.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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