Your property taxes are going up. By a lot. In King County, property tax bills are rising by 9 to 31%. Seattle’s will increase by nearly 17%. Most of that increase comes from a property tax hike to fund public education. Residents in school districts across the state will see similar increases, though the rate will vary by location.
The Washington State Supreme Court did not require a property tax increase when it decided in the McCleary case that the state was failing to meet its constitutional requirement to amply fund our public schools. The Court ruled that the state must identify regular and dependable tax sources to amply fund education, which required billions of additional dollars.
Washington's Paramount Duty, an organization of parents and allies advocating to fully fund K-12 public schools, proposed options that would fully fund our schools with new, equitable revenues that don't hurt working families. These could include a capital gains tax and closing corporate tax loopholes. A huge property tax increase wasn’t on our list.
Legislators chose poorly. They passed the largest property tax increase in state history to address our school funding needs. It was a Republican funding proposal that passed with many Democratic votes. But even that fell short. The Supreme Court ruled the legislature needs to add at least another $1 billion this year to fund our public schools. And school districts like Olympia and Tacoma reportedly face teacher layoffs this coming spring because the legislature didn’t provide enough funding.
Not surprisingly, the Republican tax plan—which raised property taxes in predominantly Democratic areas of Washington—also included a property tax decrease for heavily Republican areas, even though it doesn’t provide those districts enough new funding either. It is also work noting that the Republican plan included huge tax cuts for companies such as Boeing, Walmart, Puget Sound Energy, CenturyLink, Avista, and others.
This massive property tax increase in much of the state will hurt working families such as ours and make Washington’s upside-down tax structure worse. Our tax system is the most upside down in the country. The people with the lowest incomes pay seven times more in taxes as a share of personal income than the richest 1%.
This comes amidst a housing crisis that is displacing communities and making it increasingly difficult for working families to afford to live in Puget Sound. Recent census data confirms what many of us already knew: lower income and Black and Hispanic families are being pushed out of Seattle in record numbers, largely due to the rising cost of housing.
Raising state property taxes to pay for public schools has the effect of driving these families out of Seattle.
Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos sells $1 billion in stock and pays no tax on those capital gains to the state of Washington, even as our schools remain underfunded. (Even with last week’s stock market dive, Bezos will make a massive profit on any future stock sale.) As the richest individuals enjoy greater wealth than at any time in the last 90 years, they are not being asked to contribute their fair share to invest in our chronically underfunded public schools. Our wealthiest individuals and largest corporations take home huge profits while we critically underfund education, health care, homeless supports, and other crucial services.
Instead, our state prioritizes keeping taxes low on the 1% while failing to raise the revenue to guarantee every child has an amply funded education. Likewise, our largest corporations pay tiny state tax bills, reaping the benefits of tax breaks Washington prioritizes over the state’s 1.1 million K-12 students.
Washington’s tax structure is inequitable and hurts our kids, particularly our kids with greater needs. Washington state's regressive tax system means education is funded by taxing working people and the poor—the very people who most need these services. In order to amply fund our public schools, without doing so in ways that worsen inequities and displacement, we absolutely need to fix Washington’s regressive tax system.
It is a false choice to tell Washingtonians they can either have regressive taxes or excellent schools and better transportation systems. Washington can and must do both.
Republicans have offered proposals to cut the property tax increase they demanded - but their bills do not replace the lost revenue, leaving our schools billions of dollars short.
Democrats now control both houses of the legislature. They have the opportunity to use that majority to both amply fund our schools and reverse this inequitable property tax increase with new, progressive revenue. But the session is off to a troubling start as Democrats are using their majorities to reduce car tabs and raid education funding to partly replace the lost revenue, still jeopardizing delivery of voter-approved transit projects.
While legislators are finally debating a proposal to enact a capital gains tax on Washington’s wealthiest residents, their plan would use the revenues from a capital gains tax to lower property taxes. This is a good start – but the bill doesn’t produce the minimum of $1 billion in new revenue that’s needed to address immediate needs in our schools, like keeping teachers in the classroom. Democrats should increase the proposed capital gains tax rate in order to add that new revenue for schools as well as reduce the property tax hike.
To meet our state’s constitutional paramount duty and invest in a world-class education for every student, Washington must invest at least another $1 billion in public schools.
This includes legislation for the state to fully fund the actual costs of special education. The state Senate plan to boost special education funding (SB 6362) would only increase special education funding by $30 million, which is less than 20% of the current $164 million special education funding shortfall. Special education funding is both a constitutional and legal requirement as well as a moral imperative.
When you get your property tax increases this month, remember that there are better ways to fund our public schools. Let’s urge the legislature to do right by our kids and working families and pass $1 billion in new progressive revenue to amply fund our school and make our tax system fairer this session.
We must use begin collecting from wealthy individuals and corporations to fund our public schools, children’s health care, early learning, higher education, homeless services, and mental health services. The future of our state depends on it.
Summer Stinson is a co-founder and the President of Washington’s Paramount Duty, a grassroots group of parents and allies advocating for the state to amply fund public schools. She has co-written four amicus (friend of the court) briefs in the McCleary school funding case.
Sarah Reyneveld is a board member of Washington’s Paramount Duty. Sarah Reyneveld is a board member of Washington’s Paramount Duty. She previously served as a research assistant in the Washington State Governor’s Office and legislative assistant in the Washington State Senate.