Other Voices

Proposed legislation to cut levy equalization stopped – for now

Whoever said, “the best is always saved for last” got it wrong! This past legislative session had a record number of new laws passed – 583 – and one of the worst bills to come up for debate in the final hour of the legislative session was House Bill 1776. This proposal would have cut $60 million from levy equalization funding and allowed wealthy school districts to make up the money by increasing property tax levy lids by four percent, or up to 35 percent.

I am pleased to report that House Republicans were able to stop this bill in its tracks. We objected to the Legislature passing bills that pick winners and losers, and widening the disparity between rural and urban school funding. Under the bill, only a handful of school districts in the most affluent parts of the state would have benefitted. The remaining property-poor and rural districts would have seen major cuts in levy dollars from the state.

In fact, more than 30 school districts in our part of the state would have seen major cuts to levy equalization. According to nonpartisan budget staff calculations, school districts in Okanogan County would have been impacted by House Bill 1776 as follows: 

• Nespelem School District would have lost an estimated $57,739;

• Okanogan School District would have lost an estimated $167,040;

• Omak School District would have lost an estimated $272,568;

• Oroville School District would have lost an estimated $80,777; and

• Tonasket School District would have lost an estimated $163,147.

This same scenario would have played out in every corner of the 7th District. Funding education unequally ultimately hurts children.

I met with superintendents, teachers, parents and community leaders last fall that urged me to ensure levy equalization funds were left intact. These dollars help balance out the tax base differences that exist, particularly between rural and urban school districts. The funds are particularly important for the 7th Legislative District because we have so much state- and federally-owned land that it makes it hard to generate enough levy money to equal that of property-rich, urban school districts. To suggest that allowing schools to raise levy lids by four percent would solve the funding disparity, assumes families have the income to pay higher property taxes. In this economy, folks may not have any more flexibility in their household budgets.

I believe this is an issue of fairness. If the state is going to continue to buy land in our district, taking it off our property tax rolls, it’s only fair that the state step up to the plate and make our school districts whole through levy equalization dollars. Education is, after all, the paramount duty of the state.

House Bill 1776, while dead for now, is still alive since our Legislature works on a two-year cycle.  It could be brought up again if the governor calls a special legislative session, or anytime during the 60-day 2010 session.

I encourage everyone in the 7th District to add this action to their to-do list today: Call the governor at (360) 902-4111, the Speaker of the House at (360) 786-7920 and the Senate Majority Leader at (360) 786-7604 and let them know House Bill 1776 is an unfair policy and should be sidelined for good.  In the meantime, I will continue to fight to protect school funding.

Rep. Joel Kretz serves as the deputy leader for the Washington House Republicans and represents the 7th Legislative District. He can be reach at his district office in Omak at (509) 826-7203.