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Republican Senate leader decries bill that would triple property tax lid

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(The Center Square) – State Senate Republican leader John Braun is decrying a bill proposed by majority Democrats that, if enacted, could triple Washington’s 1% limit on annual property tax increases.

“Tripling the property tax rate cap is just plain wrong,” Braun said last week. “Can’t Washingtonians get a single year where Democrats aren’t digging deeper into their pockets?”

Braun, R-Centralia, in an emailed advisory Thursday said the effects of Senate Bill 5770 would “hit everyone. They hit seniors on fixed incomes, middle class families trying to afford higher prices on gas and groceries, and renters who will have higher rents to cover the higher taxes (that) housing providers have to pay on multi-family units.”

Braun serves on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which has scheduled a hearing on Senate Bill 5770 at 4 p.m. Thursday. He is trying to rally opposition to the measure.

In all, 20 Democrats are sponsoring the bill, including Sen. Jamie Pedersen of Seattle, majority floor leader, and committee chairwoman Sen. June Robinson of Everett.

Language in the bill says the Legislature “finds that the arbitrary 1% limitation on the growth of property tax collections has severely inhibited the ability of the state, counties, cities, and other special districts to provide critical community services in the face of significant population growth and inflation.”

Property taxes are the primary revenue source for counties in funding public safety and criminal justice costs while the state’s share goes entirely toward public schools. Raising the annual limit will help the state “make ample provision for the education of students with disabilities” in coming years, the measure says.

Braun, in turn, says Democrats’ concern for public safety “seems hollow given how their policies have gutted police departments, vilified law enforcement … and created a revolving door in our criminal justice system.” He also said funding services for children with disabilities “should never depend on a new tax.”

Washington state’s 1% annual property tax increase limit was approved by voters in 2001 with passage of Initiative 747. The state Supreme Court struck down the initiative in 2007, but it was subsequently reinstated by the Legislature.

“The … limit obviously restricts revenue growth, especially for jurisdictions that are heavily dependent on property taxes and whose costs are increasing more than 1% per year due to inflation, salary and benefit costs, and other factors,” the nonprofit Municipal Research and Services Center notes in a summary on its website.

As proposed, the bill would allow a property tax increase up to 3% annually, based on inflation in the consumer price index as determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and from population changes in the two most recent years as estimated by the state Office of Financial Management.

Braun says that could increase state and local property taxes by $4.1 billion over the next six years, and $12 billion over the next 12 years.

“State government already gets enough of your money,” said Braun. “Stop raising taxes. Stop making housing even less affordable. Fund priorities from existing revenue. Provide meaningful tax relief instead.”

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