Levy bill passes House

Voters statewide may decide next November whether to allow a simple majority of voters to authorize a school levy.

The state House on Monday passed HJR 4205 by a 73 to 25 margin to amend the state Constitution to allow a simple majority to pass a school levy.

At present, it takes a 60-percent majority vote to pass a school levy.

To amend the Constitution, a bill must receive two-thirds support in the House and the Senate, and then be approved by voters. The bill received more than the required two-thirds vote in the House.

Tenth District Representatives Barbara Bailey and Chris Strow, both Republicans, split on HJR 4205, with Bailey supporting the measure and Strow voting against it.

Bailey said Tuesday morning that to her, it’s simply an issue of sending the question to the voters. Oak Harbor School District officials and the local teachers’ union have been strong supporters of eliminating the 60 percent “supermajority” requirement, but Bailey is personally against it.

Bailey pointed out the bill applies only to school maintenance and operation levies, not bonds. Typically, levies pay for routine expenses while bonds pay for major construction projects. She would not have supported the bill had bonds been included.

“I’m not in favor of it for levies, either,” Bailey said. “There are good reason not to be for 50 percent, but the people are going to have to decide.” She said that school taxes apply only to property owners, therefore “it should be more difficult” to increase property taxes.

Strow said his decision was a difficult one. “I’m torn in a number of directions,” he said. “If one vote had made a difference, I may have voted differently.”

He expressed reluctance to lose the “protection for taxpayers” provided by the supermajority requirement. He said he favored an amendment that would have required a 60 percent majority for a first levy request, and then 50 percent for renewals of that levy. But that amendment was cut from the final bill.

Bailey wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how it will fare in the Democratically-controlled Senate, but Strow said he thinks it will get the necessary votes there and then go to the voters next November.

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