October 22, 2007
In part three of our 2007 election preview, let’s focus on Engrossed House Joint Resolution 4204 (EHJR 4204) the so-called “simple majority school levy” ballot measure.
As you may know, the state Constitution gives school districts the authority to collect property tax revenues in excess of 1 percent of the assessed value of county property for maintenance and operation, capital and transportation purposes. These are commonly referred to as “excess levies” and there are two ways they can be approved. First, the levy is approved if 60 percent of the voters within the school district vote yes so long as the number of voters casting ballots is equal to or greater than 40 percent of the district voters who participated in the last general election. Second, if the voter turnout is less than 40 percent of the prior general election, the number of yes votes must equal or exceed 60 percent of a number that represents 40 percent of district voters who participated in the last general election.
For many years, public school advocates have argued that the 60 percent threshold is too high a bar to set for school funding and that only a simply majority of 50 percent should be required to pass school district levies.
EJHR 4204 would amend the state Constitution to permit voter approval of school district excess levies by a 50 percent majority of voters and eliminates the 40 percent election validation requirement discussed above. Proponents of the amendment argue that funding for schools should only require a simple majority of voter approval and that the funding requested by school districts is for critical items such as textbooks, building maintenance and smaller class sizes. They also contend that while most school levies pass by 50 percent or more, the 60 percent supermajority is not fair causing painful budget cuts, teacher layoffs and other disruptions that hurt schools. EHJR 4204 is supported by the state Parent Teachers Association, the Washington Education Association, Greater Spokane Chamber of Commerce, the Urban League and the League of Education Voters.
Opponents of the amendment argue that the bar should remain high to approve property taxes above the 1 percent limit and that the state Constitutional protections ensure affordable and accountable levies. Passage of the measure would also make it easier to raise property taxes. State Senator Janea Holmquist (R-Moses Lake) and Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama) are part of the organized opposition to the amendment as is the Washington Farm Bureau and the League of Washington’s Taxpayers.
Secretary of State’s information page on this issue: Go >