The little bill that couldn’t is not quite back on track

OLYMPIA — Everyone understands the problem. No one opposes the solution.

Yet today owners of 285 properties in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties still are facing a property tax assessment from Sound Transit even though many of them, if not all, didn’t get a chance to vote on the expansion plan it helps finance.

Each of those parcels — 51 in Snohomish County, 70 in King County and 164 in Pierce County — straddle the boundaries of the taxing district. Assessors in each county are following guidance in state regulations by levying a new property tax approved by voters for Sound Transit 3 on every parcel within the regional transit authority’s boundaries, even those partial ones.

Turns out some of the owners live on the portion outside the district so they didn’t get a say on the measure, just a share of the $54 billion tab.

When Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek, learned about this unusual situation from a constituent he crafted a simple fix, House Bill 1958, to make sure the Sound Transit tax is not imposed on anything less than a whole parcel. It would be retroactive to Nov. 1 — which is before voters approved ST3 — to ensure none of those owners has to pay a dime.

No one opposed it at a House Transportation Committee hearing. Every lawmaker on the committee supported advancing the legislation.

There seemed no reason to suspect it would not be approved by the House, sent to the Senate and potentially on its way to a final vote there.

Except the bill didn’t get through the House before the March 8 deadline for action on non-budget bills. Instead of motoring toward the governor’s desk, it had, in a procedural sense, died.

Harmsworth couldn’t figure it out. He hadn’t expressed concern about its fate until the deadline neared. He said he reminded the transportation committee chairwoman about it and also pitched a member of the leadership team of the majority Democrats.

And he said on the morning of March 8, GOP leaders sent Democratic leaders a list of five Republican-sponsored bills they desired to vote on before the cutoff. One of those was HB 1958.

Still, it didn’t come up and for several days no one could explain how this bill seemingly too innocuous to fail wound up atop the heap of dead bills getting boxed up and stored until next year.

Until Tuesday, when none other than House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, confessed, “That was my mistake.”

Chopp said he thought the Senate intended to pass an identical bill and he planned on moving it instead. That wasn’t the case.

A diplomatic Harmsworth appreciated getting an answer about what occurred.

“I’m glad the speaker has realized the mistake,” he said late Tuesday. “Now let’s fix the problem for the property owners.”

However everything is not quite back on track. Because the bill didn’t get through ahead of the deadline, it must first be revived before it can be voted on. That requires two-thirds of the representatives agreeing to suspend House rules in order to bring it forward.

No problem if the one doing the asking is Mr. Speaker.

“We can pick it up again and pass it,” Chopp said confidently.

Sounds like no big deal, though as of Wednesday morning it hadn’t happened.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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