Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

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Not content to allow the state's Supreme Court to restore some degree of sanity to the state's property tax system, legislators in Washington last week voted to reinstate a property tax cap that the Court had recently found to be unconstitutional. The cap, initially imposed as a result of a 2001 ballot initiative, had prevented - and, now, will continue to prevent - certain property taxes from growing by more than 1 percent per year, a rate less than the rate of inflation and well below the rate of growth necessary to maintain public services. In fact, the Legislature's vote occurred during a special one-day session hastily called by Governor Chris Gregoire, a move that seems at least partially motivated by a desire to keep localities from doing something rash, like taking the opportunity to increase property taxes and spend them on such luxuries as police or fire departments.

During the session, the Legislature also approved a change in law that will allow homeowners with incomes under $57,000 to defer payment of as much as half of their property taxes until they sell their homes. The Washington State Budget and Policy Center has produced a series of short papers examining property tax caps, deferrals, and other related issues; read them here.

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