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The 50 percent solution

Two Oak Harbor residents and vocal proponents of community support for schools took up their cause in Olympia recently.

Lynn Goebel and Joe Mosolino, parents of children who attend Oak Harbor schools, testified before the state legislature in support of House Bill 2424. The bill, if approved, would put a proposition on the ballot in November, asking voters if a simple majority should be required for the passage of school levies and bond issues.

Currently, a school levy or bond issue requires a 60-percent supermajority by voters in order to pass.

Goebel went to the capital armed with Oak Harbor School District levy and bond issue records going back to 1960, she said. Of all the levies and bond issues that failed over the 40-plus year history, half would have passed if only a simple majority were required.

The latest example was the high school sports facility levy on the ballot in March 2001. The levy request received approval from 56.5 percent of voters. Had only a simple majority been required, Oak Harbor students would be on the way to having new sports facilities and a stadium.

“Let’s give schools the same footing as we give to others,” Goebel said in a telephone interview Tuesday. She says other measures, such as funding for new libraries, professional sports stadiums and fire houses, for example, require a simple majority to pass.

The bill will need to receive two-thirds of the vote in both the House and the Senate in order for it to make it to a vote of the people in November. The vote count needed in the House is 67, Mosolino said, and so far the bill is still a few shy.

“The key is our two Representatives (Barry Sehlin and Kelly Barlean), both have to be persuaded to go with it,” Mosolino said. However, it appears to be a partisan issue.

“The Republicans view the supermajority as protection against rogue tax increases,” Mosolino said.

Sehlin and Barlean are both Republicans.

“It appears to be a Republican/Democrat issue,” Goebel agreed.

However, Goebel is urging lawmakers to let the people decide the question of whether or not a supermajority should be required.

“Let the voters decide if we want the 50 percent,” Goebel said, stressing that that House Bill 2424 is not asking for any money or any changes by itself.

Sehlin, an Oak Harbor resident who has helped with several school levy campaigns, said Tuesday that he can’t support the bill, and blames part of its support on the misconception that the 60 percent supermajority applies only to school issues. In fact, he said, the state constitution requires a 60 percent supermajority for any proposal that would push property taxes beyond a certain level.

Sehlin described the 60 percent voter approval requirement as “the only meaningful constraint on the total amount of property tax people pay. I have lots of people from Oak Harbor demanding I support this bill; there were some very angry people down here yesterday talking to me. But just because a rule is hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong — the schools are treated like everyone else.”

Sehlin said the bill to change the law is introduced every session by the Democrats, and he said its chances of passing this year are “less than 50/50.”

Rep. Barlean, a Langley resident, said Tuesday that he too opposes HB 2424 “in its current form.” But he said there is some talk about making changes more acceptable to Republicans, such as lowering the voter approval requirement to 55 percent rather than 50 percent, and requiring that school elections be held on regularly scheduled general or primary election dates. If that happens, he said, “I think it’s workable.”

News-Times editor Jim Larsen contributed to this story.

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