Editorial: School tax change needs explanation

March 4, 2010

By Contributor

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A proposal in the state Senate that would shift property taxes from local districts to the state in order to fund education has the seed of good public policy, but must be explored further.

The bill (SB 6858) generally proposes that local school districts have their levy lid decreased, meaning less local school taxes. In exchange, the state would increase its property tax rate by a corresponding amount.For the average taxpayer, there would be precious little difference. A different government agency would be taking about the same amount of money from the same pocket.

However, there are some obvious benefits. First is that the state would finally begin to live up to its responsibility to fund education. The extra funding might even be able to jump-start last year’s effort that redefined basic education but did not identify funding for it.

Second, it could reduce local school districts’ dependence on passing a levy every few

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years just to be able to pay their teachers.

While voters, at least in King County, have been generous, it would only take one failed measure to cripple a district.

We imagine that most school districts would welcome knowing that they have a stable, reliable funding source instead of having to go out hat in hand every third or fourth year.

But the idea also raises some questions. First, how much of the money sent to Olympia would actually find its way back to the local Renton and Issaquah districts? When the state is battling a once-in-a-generation budget problem, it might be tempting for legislators to use some fiscal tricks to help fund other budget priorities. It’s been done before.

Co-sponsor Sen. Cheryl Pflug (R- 5th district) says that almost two-thirds of districts would receive more funds. What about the other third? We’re not sure how the math works that such a large proportion of districts would get more money without someone, somewhere getting substantially less. Pflug’s bill could be a good step toward the state taking responsibility for its share of funding, but the devil is in the details.

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