House votes for simple majority for school levies

By PAUL QUEARY The Associated Press
3/17/03 5:38 PM

OLYMPIA (AP) -- Local school districts could pass property tax levies with a simple majority if voters approve a constitutional amendment passed Monday by the House.

The state Constitution currently requires a 60 percent supermajority for such levies. That requirement -- the product of a property tax revolt among farmers during the Great Depression -- often results in a minority of voter causing levies to fail.

"That powerful minority -- that 40 percent -- are able to control our schools," said Rep.
Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton. "All we're asking is that you let the people vote.

The proposal passed 73-25, easily surpassing the 66 votes needed to approve a constitutional amendment in the House. Such proposals require a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the Legislature before they go to the ballot.

The measure received yes votes from 52 Democrats and 21 Republicans. Twenty-five Republicans voted no.

The measure now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate, where its future is uncertain.

Opponents argue that the bill could mean much higher property taxes in some areas as parents, teachers and other school advocates pack the polls.

"These are levies that could cause people to lose their homes," said Rep. Toby Nixon, R-Kirkland. "We should have a higher standard."

Republicans tried to tack on two amendments aimed at the practice of passing school levies at special elections with relatively low turnout instead of at the regular primary or general election.

The first would invalidate levy elections that don't draw 15 percent of registered voters.
The second would allow levies with a simple majority only at the primary or general election, leaving the supermajority requirement for special elections.

"Once upon a time in our state, we had stealth elections for these levies," said Rep. Brad Benson, R-Spokane.

Both amendments failed after the bill's supporters said the days of such "stealth elections" are over now that most Washington voters get ballots for every election in the mail automatically. School levy elections are typically held early in the year to allow districts to have the result in hand when they write budgets and hire teachers.

Under the 60- percent rule, local operating levies and bond issues for school construction have failed hundreds of times over the years, even though more than half of voters supported them. Eventually, most levies pass, but not without costly second and third elections.

"Voting to give this option to the citizens of Washington is not a vote for higher taxes, it is a vote for democracy," asked Rep. Phyllis Kenney, D-Seattle. "How can we justify hanging onto a particular relic that flies in the face of the entire concept of democracy?"

Attempts to send a constitutional change to the voters have failed in recent years. Last year, an amendment that would have allowed simple majorities for both levies and construction bonds fell one vote short. This year's version includes only levies, preserving the supermajority for bonds.

The vote comes amid realization that the state's $2.4 billion budget gap spells bad news for state education spending. That's led to increased pressure to make raising local taxes easier.

The 60-percent rule stems from a strong anti-property tax movement that started among farmers in the 1920s and culminated in a constitutional amendment approved by voters in

That movement echoed Monday in the floor speeches of the bill's opponents, who evoked the life-or-death importance of property taxes to farmers.

"People pay the property tax whether they're sick or whether they're health, whether they're laid off or working," said Rep. Don Cox, R-Colfax.

On the Net:

Legislature: Governor:

OLYMPIA (AP) -- Votes Monday as the House, on a 73-25 vote, approved a constitutional amendment to allow simple majority votes for school levies. Voting yes were 21 Republicans and 52 Democrats. Voting no were 25 Republicans and 0 Democrats. Passage of the amendment required 66 votes -- a two-thirds supermajority.

REPUBLICANS VOTING YES [these are not your friends if you own property]

Gary Alexander (Olympia)

Glenn Anderson (FallCity)

Mike Armstrong (Wenatchee)

Barbara Bailey (OakHarbor)

Marc Boldt (Vancouver)

Jack Cairnes (Kent)

Tom Campbell (Roy)

Richard DeBolt (Chehalis)

Doug Ericksen (Bellingham)

Shirley Hankins (Richland)

Fred Jarett (MercerIsland)

Joyce McDonald (Puyallup)

Cathy McMorris (Colville)

Ed Orcutt (Carrolls)

Cheryl Pflug (MapleValley)

Skip Priest (FederalWay)

Jan Shabro (BonneyLake)

Mary Skinner (Yakima)

Gigi Talcott (Tacoma)

Rodney Tom (Medina)

Beverly Woods (Poulsbo)

REPUBLICANS VOTING NO [these legislators tried to stop the onslaught]

John Ahern (Spokane)

Brad Benson (Spokane)

Jim Buck (Joyce)

Roger Bush (Spanaway)

Mike Carrell (Lakewood)

Bruce Chandler (Granger)

Jim Clements (Selah)

Cary Condotta (EastWenatchee)

Don Cox (Colfax)

Larry Crouse (Spokane)

Jerome Delvin (Richland)

Bill Hinkle (CleElum)

Janea Holmquist (MosesLake)

Dan Kristiansen (Snohomish)

Dave Mastin (WallaWalla)

Lois McMahan (Olalla)

Thomas Mielke (BattleGround)

Dan Newhouse (Sunnydale)

Toby Nixon (Kirkland)

Kirk Pearson (Monroe)

Dan Roach (BonneyLake)

Lynn Schindler (SpokaneValley)

Mark Schoesler (Ritzville)

Barry Sehlin (OakHarbor)

Bob Sump (Republic)

DEMOCRATS VOTING YES [these legislators - well they can't tax us enough so this is just their DNA]

Jean Berkey (Everett)

Brian Blake (Aberdeen)

Maralyn Chase (Edmonds)

Frank Chopp (Seattle)

Judy Clibborn (MercerIsland)

Eileen Cody (Seattle)

Steve Conway (Tacoma)

Mike Cooper (Edmonds)

Jeannie Darneille (Tacoma)

Mary Lou Dickerson (Seattle)

Hans Dunshee (Snohomish)

Jeanne Edwards (Bothell)

Bill Eickmeyer (Belfair)

Dennis Flannigan (Tacoma)

Bill Fromhold (Vancouver)

Jeff Gombosky (Spokane)

Bill Grant (WallaWalla)

Kathy Haigh (Shelton)

Brian Hatfield (Raymond)

Zack Hudgins (Tukwila)

Sam Hunt (Olympia)

Ross Hunter (Medina)

Ruth Kagi (LakeForestPark)

Phyllis Kenney (Seattle)

Lynn Kessler (Hoquiam)

Steve Kirby (Tacoma)

Patricia Lantz (GigHarbor)

Kelli Linville (Bellingham)

John Lovick (MillCreek)

John McCoy (Tulalip)

Joe McDermott (Seattle)

Jim McIntire (Seattle)

Mark Miloscia (FederalWay)

Jim Moeller (Vancouver)

Dawn Morrell (Puyallup)

Jeff Morris (Anacortes)

Ed Murray (Seattle)

Al O'Brien (MountlakeTerrace)

Eric Pettigrew (Seattle)

Dave Quall (MountVernon)

Phil Rockefeller (Silverdale)

Sandra Romero (Olympia)

Laura Ruderman (Kirkland)

Sharon Tomiko Santos (Seattle)

Shay Schual-Berke (NormandyPark)

Geoff Simpson (Covington)

Helen Sommers (Seattle)

Brian Sullivan (Mukilteo)

Dave Upthegrove (DesMoines)

Velma Veloria (Seattle)

Deb Wallace (Vancouver)

Alex Wood (Spokane)


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