Calculate Your Tax Hit - The New Families and Education Levy

October 24, 2011

Folks at Seattle Families Against Prop. 1 have created a tax calculator based on public records information from the King County Assessor’s office.  A Seattle ballot proposal would double the cost of the Families and Education Levy, an extra funding program that has been in place since 1990.

The calculator lets you type in your street address and it tells you how much you’ll pay in additional taxes over the life of the new Levy.  Here’s what Levy opponents say about it:

I thought you might like to see this web site which raises some serious concerns about the “Families and Education” Levy - among other things, its supporters can’t really point to any past accomplishments for the 20 years and $255 million dollars that were already spent-- and if approved again, it will cost the average homeowner another $882 in extra property tax.  Worth considering before you decide how to vote on it.

Here’s the calculator.

I typed in the address of a low-income elderly person I know – someone who has lived in the same house since the 1940s.  A notice popped up – it said:

The owner of this property is eligible for a low-income senior or disabled person tax discount and/or exemption from some school levies. Note that the Seattle 2011 Families and Education Levy is NOT an exempt school levy. All taxpayers, including low-income seniors and disabled persons will see their taxes increased if the levy passes. (Emphasis in original.)

So, because the Families and Education Levy is an extra city property tax, the usual exemptions for school levies do not apply.  The property tax is a regressive tax, so this means the doubled Families and Education Levy will fall hardest on the poor, the unemployed and Seattle’s 70,000 senior citizens.

Levy supporters say imposing a higher financial burden on our low-income elderly neighbors is worth it because the money is supposed to help educate children.  In theory they are right - paying taxes to educate children is clearly worth it.  In practice that is not happening.  If the data showed the Levy actually worked it might be worth renewing it – even doubling it, as proposed.  Instead, the Levy has been in place for 20 years and it has not increased the graduation rate or closed the achievement gap, as supporters promised it would do.

Today one in three Seattle public school students drop out and, even more shocking, nearly half of black students fail to graduate (the graduation rate at Seattle’s private schools is 90%).  These students are being cheated of the education they were promised.  Voting “yes” on the Levy tells city leaders that’s O.K.  Voting “no” on the Levy says failing to educate kids is unacceptable.

Seattle voter’s approved three school levies last year, the District’s budget increased $11 million, and Seattle now spends $13,100 per student, more than Bellevue, Kirkland or any school district in the state.  It’s unfair to impose a tax increase on the elderly, the poor and the unemployed during the worst economy since the 1930s for a program that doesn’t work.  City leaders should stop seeking more money and start educating kids.


missing the logic

You write: "the Levy has been in place for 20 years and it has not increased the graduation rate or closed the achievement gap, as supporters promised it would do".

Okay Paul, let's apply your "logic" to other taxes and see what we get:

- Gas taxes have been in effect for more than 20 years, and yet gridlock is worse than ever and roads are in bad shape. Therefore, gas taxes should be repealed.

- Cell phone taxes have been around since, well, cell phones, and have even gone up. Yet many phone calls are still dropped right in the middle of a conversation. Clearly, cell phone taxes should be eliminated because they are ineffective.

If the Washington Policy Center were really that concerned about the effect of regressive taxes on the poor and the elderly, you'd be advocating for a reduction in sales taxes (very regressive) and a progressive state income tax to replace it.

The difference is the Levy is

The difference is the Levy is being judged based on goals the supporters themselves set when they put the Levy before voters in 1990, 1997 and 2004. Each time the Voters' Pamphlet included promises of what the Levy would accomplish - so it's fair to judge the Levy based on those promises. - Paul.

too cute by half

Paul, you know as well as anyone else that the Families and Education levy represents only a very small portion of education funding in Seattle schools. So please don't set up straw-man arguments like holding this single levy accountable for all educational outcomes of Seattle students. It's a little more complicated than that.