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WA House Committee Narrowly Approves Replacement to Annual Property Tax Limit

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A Washington House committee has approved — barely — a bill that would allow local governments to increase property taxes each year by more than the currently-allowed one percent.

Since 2007 Washington state law has said taxing districts can only increase property taxes each year by one percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The legislature voted that year to reinstate the one-percent cap that voters approved in 2001. The state Supreme Court had ruled the one-percent initiative unconstitutional. So legislators went into special session to put it back into state law and they included one caveat: municipalities and counties can go to voters and ask for more.

Local elected officials, especially in prosperous areas, say that has certainly led to leaner government, sometimes too lean. Many, including elected officials from both parties, now say they don’t have enough cash to provide the services their constituents expect.

The House Finance Committee on Thursday considered a bill that would allow property tax increases to rise to the level of inflation plus population change. Annual increases couldn’t exceed five percent.

Four of the five Republicans on the committee spoke against the proposal. Some, like Rep. Cary Condotta (R-East Wenatchee), were rather forceful about it.

“I am adamantly opposed to raising this limit," Condotta said. "It’s out there to take a vote if you need more money. And the fact is 75% of the counties and the cities that have asked for it have gotten it. If you have a compelling case, go to the voters. They’ll give it to you.”

Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) countered by saying times have changed since 2007. He doesn’t agree with legislators who believe this would lead to a rush of big property tax increases. He said the state needs to trust local elected leaders will be judicious when they consider future increases.

“They are committed people to their communities and they make the best decisions for them," Springer said. 
"So I think imbuing them with the authority and the judgment to make these calls at their local level is the right way to go. And it’s time we change this law so I would ask for a yes vote.”

When the vote was taken, six Democrats said yes, five Republicans said on. The bill now moves on the legislative process.

Thanks to TVW for the sound in this story.