Many eastside residents have written to me about the sharp increase in property taxes this year. I’ve heard from seniors on fixed incomes concerned about whether they will be able to afford to stay in the homes they’ve lived in for decades. I’ve heard from people trying to keep up with taxes that are increasing faster than their wages. And I’ve heard from people who are just mad at the big increase after years of incremental increases due to voted levies and increased home and land values. Increased property taxes are contributing to already out-of-control costs of housing for everyone, causing people who work in places like Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland to have to move farther and farther away.
This year’s dramatic property tax increase is due almost entirely (75%) to the state legislature’s decision in 2017 to fund schools statewide, which is having a disproportionate impact on King County taxpayers. To a smaller extent, voter approved levies like ST3 and the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy are also increasing property taxes. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version about how we got here.
Some years ago the state Supreme Court forced the legislature to accept a harsh reality: Washington State has repeatedly failed to meet its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education. This was known as the McCleary decision. And despite a court-imposed $100,000 daily penalty assessed over the past 2.5 years (amounting to nearly $100 million at this point), a divided state government was unable to resolve the impasse until this past summer.
In the 2017 legislative session, a bipartisan budget addressed the McClearly problem to fund education. But this fix fell heavily on King County residents. Under that plan, King County households are paying hundreds upon hundreds of dollars more per year while most of the rest of the state was given a much lighter load. And taxes in the places like East King County are slated to continue to increase every year while taxes elsewhere will actually decrease over time.
Fortunately, this year’s legislature recently acted to provide some relief for our local taxpayers. The changes aim to offset the increases for King County property owners. The relief package includes a temporary fix that will reduce the new property tax by nearly 12% for one year in 2019.
Like most people, I believe strongly that we should invest in the future of our communities via ample funding for public education. We all benefit when our young people are well educated. I also believe that those of us blessed to have more can and should pay our fair share for public goods like education that benefit our entire community. A single mom scraping by in Moses Lake can’t afford to and shouldn’t have to pay as much as a highly-paid professional who just bought a $1.3 million condo in downtown Bellevue. But the way we fund public education matters – we can and should consider ways to share the burden fairly and with care for those who can least afford to pay.
How about closing even just a handful of unnecessary tax loopholes? Or a targeted, modest capital gains tax? Or a carbon tax on the state’s biggest polluters? There are multiple ways to spread this burden differently and more fairly that merit more serious consideration.
Many people living in King County are not wealthy. Many are on fixed incomes, particularly seniors and people with disabilities. The costs of housing and property taxes are skyrocketing yet incomes largely remain the same. People are working longer than at any time in our recent history while struggling to keep up. There has to be a better way. The bottom line: we need relief. Preserving the middle class isn’t a partisan issue.
I want to acknowledge and thank our eastside legislators in the 1st, 41st, 45th and 48th districts (all of whom represent part of my County Council district). All of these legislators voted against the unfairly distributed McCleary increases (with the exception of then-Senator Dino Rossi), and all of them supported the relief that was passed in the recently-concluded 2018 session (including new Senator Manka Dhingra, who also co-sponsored the measure). I know all of them will continue to work to find a solution in the long term, which they will be taken up again next session.
We can support our legislators in their efforts by contacting them at the links below:
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