News

Property tax cap draws heated debate

By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

When the state Supreme Court threw out Initiative 747, the 1 percent annual property tax cap, the world according to Tim Eyman suddenly looked different.

The court upheld a King County Superior Court ruling tossing out the Eyman citizen initiative, I-747. The Supreme Court was sharply divided on the issue, ruling 5-4.

Both courts ruled the initiative failed to amend the correct law, which violated the state Constitution.

I-747 was written to amend the 2 percent cap, but the Supreme Court had struck down measure when I-747 made it to the ballot.

I-747 would have to amend a 6 percent cap, but the measure addressed the 2 percent cap, according to the court majority.

The larger question for taxing districts, cities and citizens is what happens next.

The Bonney Lake City Council elected to stay within the 1 percent cap in setting the annual ad valorem tax levy at the Nov. 13 meeting.

Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman said Bonney Lake is in a unique position because of the growth the city experiences.

“In reality the 1 percent cap is forcing taxes down for the individual, which is good” Swatman said. “But the amount of services keeps shrinking because of inflation. Bonney Lake is able to keep up because of growth, but that won't continue.”

East Pierce Fire and Rescue Chief Dan Packer said the area voters have always supported the fire district by approving lid lifts.

“I want to reassure voters we won't be seeking a windfall,” Packer said. “The citizens have consistently supported us. We want the voters to set a tax support they are comfortable with every year.”

Both Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater, and Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, from the 31st Legislative District intend to resurrect bills that will put the 1 percent cap in the state law.

“I think the court ruling is an error,” Hurst said. “People have a hard time paying property taxes. I understand some taxing districts need taxes, but are we going to push people who are living on the edge?”

Hurst said his bill, which he co-sponsored with Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, could have been moved forward in the last session, “but we thought there was only about a 20 percent chance the court would rule the way it did.”

Hurst said the governor might call a special session in December if taxing districts try to take advantage of the ruling before the Legislature has an opportunity to act.

“I'm not buying that cities can't solve this problem,” Hurst said. “This is not a problem the Legislature created. This was a citizen initiative. I'm hearing from middle income and senior citizens saying they can't afford higher property taxes. I haven't had a single wealthy person call me yet.”

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

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