Washington Legislature Says No to Expanding County Taxing Authority

Jul 3, 2017

Some county officials in Washington are disappointed that the legislature did not expand their taxing authority.
Credit Spokanepics.com

Washington’s new budget was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee about 45 minutes before the end of the fiscal year on Saturday morning. Many, including school districts, are happy about it. Schools will get nearly two billion dollars more next year.

But some local governments are unhappy because they didn’t get one of the things they sought most.

County officials had hoped legislative leaders had heard their plea.

For the last 10 years Washington law has held counties can only raise property taxes by one percent each year to keep up with the cost of providing services. Counties can go to the voters and ask for more.

After several years of working through their reserves and trimming budgets, many county officials say the one-percent increase just isn’t enough anymore. Many have cut services, including law enforcement, in order to stay afloat. Some rural counties no longer offer 24/7 policing.

To remedy that, counties proposed state lawmakers throw out the one-percent increase in favor of an increase based on inflation and property growth, with a maximum five-percent raise per year.

The bill passed one committee, but then stalled. Still, Eric Johnson from the Washington Association of Counties thought the message had gotten through.

“We were hopeful, but as the budget came out, the hypocrisy of them exempting themselves from any limit and retaining a one-percent for cities and counties and other special purpose districts was significantly disappointing to us,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s referring to the legislature’s decision to raise the state property tax to fund schools. In some parts of the Puget Sound area, that may mean double digit percentage increases in property taxes.

At the same time, he says, state lawmakers continue to ask counties to do more with no extra money. That includes one new law that requires counties to add more ballot drop boxes in underserved areas.