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Plenty to argue over in the 31st

By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

A special legislative session scheduled for Thursday in Olympia to pass a 1 percent property tax cap has drawn some early salvos from each side of the political aisle in the 31st District.

The special one-day session was called last week by Gov. Chris Gregoire to counter a bombshell dropped in her lap by the state Supreme Court Nov. 6. The nine jurists upheld a King County Superior Court ruling that struck down Initiative 747 as unconstitutional. Tim Eyman's initiative capped property taxes to 1 percent for taxing agencies like cities and fire districts.

Once the court handed down its 5-4 ruling, the governor warned taxing districts she would call a special session if it appeared taxes would be raised before the Legislature could act.

Gregoire made good on her threat last week and scheduled the session for Thursday when the legislators were planning to be in Olympia for committee assembly.

The plan is for the House and Senate to consider a bill to reinstate I-747.

Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater, was the prime sponsor of a 1 percent property tax cap bill during the last session. Hurst said his bill will be the measure considered and he expects it to pass through both chambers on Thursday and be signed by the governor soon after.

Democrats have control of both houses and Gregoire also is a Democrat.

Rep. Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, said he strongly supports the 1 percent cap, but believes the governor “is reacting to political pressure. It is prudent for the Legislature to act quickly.”

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said the bill the Democrats will considered does not address the banking authority of the taxing districts. Banking authority is the ability to save up taxing capacity for use at a later time.

According to Sen. Roach, “Republicans want a 1 percent tax cap, but not 1 percent if the taxing authority is left with a huge banking capacity. A city can live off its banked capacity for years.”

Hurst said Roach “is wrong on that. The banking capacity will be wiped away once the legislation is passed. The reason this is important is it allows districts to raise 1 percent or they can raise 0 percent. If we do what Eyman and others are suggesting it will force taxing districts to raise taxes 1 percent every year, whether they want to or not. That will cause property taxes to be raised every year. It will be use it or lose it.”

The senator said she will have a chance to look carefully at the bill because she a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

“I don't think the Republicans will let this go unchallenged,” Sen. Roach said. “Will the Democrats want to go back and do what the voters wanted by eliminating the bank capacity? I don't think so.”

Hurst said he talked to Tim Eyman and explained the issue of banked capacity.

“He agreed with me, then called back a few days later and said he changed his mind,” Hurst said. “We are dealing with a big political shell game. They want a political football to kick around. If we do what we plan the voters will have a 1 percent property tax cap.”

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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