April Berg (left) and Ed Orcutt (right)

April Berg (left) and Ed Orcutt (right)

Voters put a cap on property taxes, but lawmakers may soon erase it

A 2001 initiative set the limit at 1%. A bill raising it to 3% cleared a House panel with only Democratic votes.

OLYMPIA — Cash-strapped local governments edged closer Tuesday to getting rid of the 1 percent cap on annual property tax increases that voters imposed a generation ago — and they say has left them struggling ever since.

A bill allowing annual hikes up to 3 percent passed the Democratic-controlled House Finance Committee on a party-line vote. If approved, it would go into effect beginning next year.

City and county council members, firefighters and other civic leaders lobbied hard for the increase as a tool to bring stability to budgets and assure they can provide services amid inflationary pressures and population growth.

They asked for the ability to do what’s right for their community, said Rep. April Berg, D-Mill Creek, the committee chair.

“And that’s what this bill does,” she said. “I truly believe our local communities are best to make those decisions.”

Republicans said this isn’t the right time or the right antidote to budget challenges. Many will face higher property tax bills this year due to climbing home values. And this could make matters worse in the future.

“People are suffering. I think we should be doing something to protect people from property tax increases,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, the ranking Republican on the panel. Even with the 1 percent limit, he said, “my property taxes are going up 18 percent.”

Voters planted seeds of this debate way back in 2001 when they approved Initiative 747, the handiwork of anti-tax activist Tim Eyman. It limited cities, counties, schools and special districts from increasing property tax collections by more than 1 percent from one year to the next, unless voters approved a larger increase. At the time, the maximum was 6 percent.

The initiative passed but faced an immediate legal challenge. In 2007, a divided state Supreme Court found it unconstitutional. Days later, lawmakers held a one-day special session to chisel the limit into law. Then Gov. Chris Gregoire signed it.

From the beginning leaders of Snohomish County and its cities warned the cap could wreak havoc by starving local governments and special districts of enough money to provide ongoing services. That argument hasn’t changed.

In recent years, local government officials say the limit has led to structural deficits in their budgets, forcing them to annually ponder paring services or finding other sources of revenue, such as higher fees or sales taxes, to make ends meet.

House Bill 1670 erases the 1 percent limit and repeals portions of the state law passed in 2007. As proposed, property tax increases would be tied to the annual rates of inflation and population change, with a new cap of 3 percent.

Typically, a property tax increase would be considered in the course of adopting a new budget. Current law requires the taxing district hold a public hearing on such revenue sources. House Bill 1670 keeps that requirement in place assuring the Snohomish County Council, city councils and special districts decide in public whether to raising the property tax.

The bill now heads to the Rules Committee to decide if will made available for a possible House vote.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Members of South County Fire practice onboarding and offboarding a hovering Huey helicopter during an interagency disaster response training exercise at Arlington Municipal Airport on Tuesday, June 6, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. The crews learned about and practiced safe entry and exit protocols with crew from Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue before begin given a chance to do a live training. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish, King counties train together for region’s next disaster

Dozens of agencies worked with aviators Tuesday to coordinate a response to a simulated earthquake or tsunami.

Police stand along Linden Street next to orange cones marking pullet casings in a crime scene of a police involved shooting on Friday, May 19, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lake Stevens man identified in Everett manhunt, deadly police shooting

Travis Hammons, 34, was killed by officers following a search for an armed wanted man in a north Everett neighborhood.

Ciscoe Morris, a longtime horticulturist and gardening expert, will speak at Sorticulture. (Photo provided by Sorticulture)
Get your Sorticulture on: Garden festival returns to downtown Everett

It’s a chance to shop, dance, get gardening tips, throw an axe and look through a big kaleidoscope. Admission is free.

Funko mascots Freddy Funko roll past on a conveyor belt in the Pop! Factory of the company's new flagship store on Aug. 18, 2017.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Lawsuit: Funko misled investors about Arizona move

A shareholder claims Funko’s decision to relocate its distribution center from Everett to Arizona was “disastrous.”

1 stabbed at apartment in Lynnwood

The man, 26, was taken to an Everett hospital with “serious injuries.”

A firefighting helicopter carries a bucket of water from a nearby river to the Bolt Creek Fire on Saturday, Sep. 10, 2022, on U.S. Highway 2 near Index, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Red flag fire warning issued west of Cascades

There are “critical fire weather” conditions due to humidity and wind in the Cascades, according to the National Weather Service.

A house fire damaged two homes around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 6, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Photo provided by Marysville Fire District)
Fire burns 2 homes in Marysville, killing 2 dogs

Firefighters responded to a report of a fire north of Lakewood Crossing early Tuesday, finding two houses engulfed in flames.

Dolly Hunnicutt holds onto a metal raccoon cutout while looking through metal wildflowers at the Freeborn Metal Art booth during the first day of Sorticulture on Friday, June 9, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Sorticulture brings gardening galore, fun by the bushel at 130 booths

“Every year there’s something different to see,” one attendee said at the opening of the three-day festival in downtown Everett.

Alex Dold lived with his mother and grandmother, Ruby Virtue, near Echo Lake. His sisters, Vanessa and Jen Dold, often would visit to play board games and watch soccer on television.
Troubled deputies at center of $1.5M settlement in Maltby man’s death

In 2017, Bryson McGee and Cody McCoy killed Alex Dold with their Tasers. Neither of them work for the sheriff’s office anymore.

Most Read