Testimony on SB 5313, to increase property taxes and re-introduce inequities in school funding

Feb 26, 2019

Yesterday I testified before the Senate Ways and Means Committee on SB 5313, a bill to increase local property taxes and re-introduce inequities in school financing. The senators took testimony from 18 people in Senate Hearing Room 4, Cherberg Building, Olympia. After I spoke, one of the senators requested my testimony.  Below is what I said, also recorded here by TVW. 

"Good afternoon.  Thank you for the opportunity to express our concerns over SB 5313.  My name is Liv Finne, Director for Education at the Washington Policy Center.

"Two years ago Governor Inslee signed HB 2242, the McCleary fix bill, the culmination of five years of this committee’s hard work.  This bill, and another passed in 2018, was approved by the state supreme court, unanimously, as fulfilling the state’s duty under McCleary school funding decision, thus ending the case.

"An integral part of HB 2242 was a commitment by lawmakers that increases in local taxes would be limited in return for large state-level property tax increases to provide uniform and equitable funding for schools.

"The first sentence of HB 2242 says this:

'An act relating to funding fully the state’s program of basic education by providing equitable education opportunities through reform of state and local education contributions....'

"Section 1 of HB 2242 establishes the intent of the legislature:

'With this act, the legislature intends to realize the promise of these reforms and to improve student outcomes by increasing state allocations for school staff salaries, by revising state and local education funding contributions, and by improving transparency and accountability in education funding.'

"The public was told that lawmakers intended to achieve equitable education funding by increasing state taxes and limiting local taxation.

"HB 2242 was designed to end the disproportionate advantage of property-rich districts by ensuring that all districts, including poor areas, receive their fair share of state funding.

"Now, just two years later, this committee is considering undoing HB 2242 by passing SB 5313.

"SB 5313 would turn back the clock and re-introduce inequity in school funding, to the benefit of wealthy school districts, leaving students in property-poor districts with proportionately less money, exactly the unfairness problem the McCleary case was supposed to solve. 

"SB 5313 also raises the problem of violating public trust.  In passing HB 2242 the public was told by lawmakers and the governor that inequality in school funding would be fixed, and that a state property tax increase would be largely balanced by a limit on local taxation.

"Now the committee is thinking of breaking that understanding – keeping the state property tax increase, and removing the limit on local tax increases.  For that reason SB 5313 can be understood as a property tax-increase bill, the second in just two years.

"Homeowners and business owners have just received their property tax notices in the mail.  Many households are seeing large increases, which fall hardest on working families, young workers, the poor, and the elderly living on fixed incomes.

"For these reasons we believe SB 5313 is poor policy and works against the public interest, because it re-introduces inequity in school funding, further privileges property-rich districts, and confuses the public by promoting local tax increases just as the legislature is also increasing the state property tax."

All the testimony provided on SB 5313 can be heard here. 

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