Letters to the Editor

Constitution: Super majority not just for schools

In the “Sound Off” printed Feb. 16, Lynn Goebel and Kathy Chalfant stated that only school districts are required to obtain 60 percent voter approval for passage levy or bond proposal. That is simply not true. According to the Washington State Constitution (Article VII, section 2), all tax districts (including the state) are limited to an aggregate or total levy of one percent of the assessed value for all real and personal property located within the district, except port and utility districts!

Any of the public service agencies listed in the Sound Off, including school districts, are able to pass a levy or bond issue with a simple majority of voter approval, but only if that one percent limitation will not be exceeded. Only after all of the authorized taxes are added together does the requirement for a “super majority” voter approval of 60 percent apply to all levy or bond issues above that limit. The same requirement applies to counties, cities and towns, and any other agency authorized to collect “ad valorem” or property tax.

Normally the total for all of our property taxes does not exceed the 1 percent limit; however, proposed school bonds and levies usually do move the total tax above that limit, invoking the super majority provision. This makes it seem that schools are being treated differently from other taking districts when they are not.

Another provision in our Constitution (Article VII, section 6) reinforces the concept of voter control over property taxes by requiring a 60 percent voter approval for schools, cities, towns and other municipal corporations to increase their debt levels above 1.5 percent of the taxable assessed value of property in their districts.

As quoted in the News-Times of Feb. 13, Representative Sehlin supports this “... only meaningful constraint on the amount of property taxes people pay;” and “...the schools are treated like everyone else.” Perhaps those who support changing our state constitution should campaign for removing the exception that port and utility districts enjoy, making them subject to the same limitation imposed on all other public agencies.

Indeed, when we consider the level of financial support provided to our public schools from taxpayer funds, one wonders why local levies are necessary. In the latest version of the state’s budget available at the Oak Harbor Public Library (1999-2000), Governor Locke proposed expenditures from the General Fund of $9.3 billion (45.6 percent) for K-12 education and $10.2 billion (25 percent) from the total of all funds in the operating expenditures budget. That does not include capital budget expenditures for building new schools with state matching funds. With a greater portion of the state’s revenue expended on schools than for any other function it may be time to expect them to make due with what they have.

James K. Johnston, Ed. D.

Oak Harbor

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