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Bill would lower Washington’s school bond election threshold to 55%

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(The Center Square) – It is too difficult to pass a school bond measure in Washington state.

That is the argument behind House Bill 1843, a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would lower the current 60% school bond threshold to 55%.

State lawmakers who support the lower threshold say that during the 2023 election cycle in Washington, 20 school bond measures went on ballots in local elections. Of those, only two met the 60% threshold of votes needed to pass. Six more failed bonds pulled in at least 55% of the vote.

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, told members of the House Education Committee he knows he’s the outlier with his party when it comes to this issue.

“None of my caucus members agree with me on this, which is actually fine,” said Harris. “This is our next McCleary and I will look at my caucus members and tell them that, because we have to fix this.”

The 2012 “McCleary Decision” saw the Washington Supreme Court rule the state was not properly funding education.

In 2018 the Evergreen School Board passed a $695-million dollar construction bond, Harris noted.

“We have beautiful schools in the Evergreen School District; they are impeccable,” he said.

Harris added, “Some parts of my district schools are beautiful; others are not so much and it’s not fair.”

“Education is our paramount duty,” he continued. “I find it rather strange to see the disparity in my own district. I look at Ridgefield SD where they had 59.998% [for school bond passage] the fastest growing district in the state. They need a new school, they probably can’t get 60%, but they can get 59.975%.”

“I think it is our paramount duty in many ways, and the idea that I have children that may be attending a school with a leaky roof – they don’t have heat or air conditioning – is absolutely appalling,” Harris reiterated.

Some Republicans on the committee questioned lowering the threshold for measures that hold taxpayers accountable for decades.

Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn, asked bill sponsors, “We do these bond votes in special elections to make it easier to pass bonds, so in your view is this bill easy enough or are we just going to make it easier, because people are hurting at home, and we’re going to make it a smaller proportion of people voting to raise taxes for the majority?”

Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, who is co-sponsoring the bill, said, “I’m disappointed we’re not making this a simple majority, but I am sensitive to the issues you raised, Rep. Couture, and that’s why I was willing to work with Rep. Harris on this.”

She continued, “I became a teacher because I believe in public education as the equalizer of inequities in our society and in a way to make sure every child has an opportunity to have the strongest footing possible.”

Washington is one of 11 states in the country that require a threshold of votes greater than 50% – sometimes called a supermajority – to pass school bonds

For years, some Democrats have wanted the number dropped down to 50%, but for now bill sponsors are willing to settle for the 55% threshold.

Last week, Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said he finds the current supermajority threshold reasonable for school bonds.

“We’re asking voters to pay for a school bond for 20 to 30 years,” Braun said. “It’s a long-term commitment. The answer is not to change the standard. The answer is to build a better case for the voters.”

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