King County Realtors push levy swap for ed funding

Washington Realtors are backing a proposal by Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) to boost statewide funding of basic education through a levy swap that would aim to reduce the dependency of school districts on voter-approved levies.

Legislators and legislative hopefuls were educated about the proposal June 5 during a meeting of the Seattle King County Association of Realtors in Bellevue, and urged to support the move in Olympia this session. First introduced in 2010, a levy swap as proposed by Hunter would raised the state property tax from $2.03 to $3.20 per $1,000 of assessed property value for an added $1 billion in revenue. Schools would then reduce their levies by the amount of new revenue received from the state.

Lawmakers are already required to significantly increase the state's contribution to basic education in public schools, following a Washington Supreme Court decision that by not doing so the Legislature was in violation of Article 9 of the state Constitution. The Realtors have worked to help pass more than a dozen school levies here in the past, and acknowledge the importance of well-funded, quality districts for attracting homebuyers, said Patti Hill, vice president of government affairs for the association. Of the 295 districts in the state, 280 receive funding through voter-approved levies.

"We need, and the constitution requires, a common ground solution," she said.

A levy swap wouldn't resolve the total balance required for K-12 education, Hill said, but would generate more revenue without taking funding away from other state services. Legislators can expect to keep receiving pressure from the Supreme Court to increase the state's contribution to basic education as decided in the McCleary case in 2012, said Phil Talmage, former state Supreme Court justice and senator. He joked to legislators at the association meeting that they should bring their toothbrushes to Olympia should they find themselves incarcerated for failing to do so.

Talmage said the Supreme Court made the mandate, but shouldn't get involved in the process of how the Legislature provides "ample" funding for basic education. It would be unprecedented, he said, if the justices were to order the funding be pulled from the general fund or through added taxes.

The Realtors also have made basic education funding its legislative priority this session, said Nathan Gorton, government affairs director for the association.However, traction on such a measure might be best done with a different name for the levy swap. One recommendation Gorton offered was the "Not Pounding Sand Swap."


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