WA legislators contemplate tripling property tax cap rate, igniting voter concerns

Source ONE News staff | Feb 7, 2024

A contentious bill that could see property taxes in Washington state rise significantly is set to go before the Senate this Thursday, sparking concern and opposition across the political spectrum. Senate Bill 5770, if passed, would mark a significant shift in the state’s approach to property tax increases, tripling the annual growth cap from the current 1 percent to 3 percent, despite voter-imposed restrictions set nearly two decades ago.

In 2001, Washington voters decisively approved a cap on property tax increases with Initiative 747, setting a limit to curb the growth of annual property taxes to 1 percent. This legislative measure stood until it was overturned by the state Supreme Court in 2007 due to technicalities, only for the Legislature to reconvene in a special session to reinstate the voter-approved cap.

However, the current bill, championed by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, along with 18 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, seeks to bypass this voter mandate without requiring public approval, potentially increasing property taxes by as much as $6 billion over the next 12 years. The bill received a nod from the Senate Ways and Means Committee on February 5, passing with votes strictly from Democratic members.

Republican senators, particularly those from the Senate Freedom Caucus, have voiced their strong opposition, citing concerns over the disregard of the public’s will and the potential financial strain on residents. “The Legislature of 17 years ago was far more interested in the will of the people than the Democratic majority in charge today,” remarked Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, highlighting the growing financial burdens faced by Washingtonians, from rising gas prices to escalating grocery bills.

Critics of the bill, like Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, argue that the justification for the tax increase is based on misleading premises, noting that cities have already benefited from the construction boom and questioning the necessity of further tax hikes. Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham, added that such increases would exacerbate the financial challenges for property owners and renters alike, especially those still reeling from the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Amidst an ongoing affordable housing crisis and growing concerns among senior citizens and disabled individuals about being taxed out of their homes, the proposed legislation has been deemed “the wrong bill at the wrong time” by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley. As the Senate prepares to vote on the measure, the outcome remains uncertain, with Republican senators poised for a fierce battle against a bill they see as an affront to the electorate’s wishes and a potential catalyst for further economic hardship.