Property tax issue a spectator sport in Olympia

Property tax and car tabs issues are likely to be campaign fodder this fall.

One of the bigger surprises of the just-completed legislative session occurred in the final hours when a Democratic-sponsored bill cutting the state property tax rate passed and nearly every Republican voted against it.

Not long after achieving this success, the same Democratic lawmakers fumbled big time by failing to provide even the littlest of savings for payers of Sound Transit car tabs.

Both matters are likely to be the subject of campaign fliers and commercials this fall. Much of the context, however, will be missing given the shortage of space on a mailer and time in a 30-second spot.

Let’s review what happened, starting with why members of the Grand Old Party opposed the one-time reduction in the property tax rate that they and Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee hiked in 2017.

Republicans really weren’t against lowering the tax. They actually introduced bills to roll back the entire increase, but as the minority party in the Senate and the House, the idea naturally never got seriously considered.

Democrats batted around several ideas as they assessed the best way to parlay an unexpected surge in revenue from the state’s economic boom into a break for property owners in 2019.

They had somewhat of a challenge. By law, most of the extraordinary revenue to be generated by the economy must be deposited in the state’s rainy day fund for emergency uses. Withdrawals require a supermajority vote, which would mean getting a few Republican votes to make that happen.

That didn’t present a huge problem last year when more than two-thirds of lawmakers shifted a ton of money from this same budget stabilization account into the general fund to cover public school costs.

But Democrats didn’t follow the same course this year. They designed a new budgetary path in which money bound for the emergency reserves was snagged before getting there and instead used to cover the cost of the property tax cut. Since the rainy day fund was not tapped, a supermajority vote was not required.

Republicans called the maneuver crafty, devious and constitutionally-challenged. They worried aloud it would leave the state less prepared for emergencies. Democrats countered that the fund isn’t going to be any worse off as a result.

Still, no Republican in the Senate and fewer than a dozen in the House voted for the legislation. They can expect to face questions about their votes this fall.

Now, to the car tabs, where some Democratic leaders are claiming Republicans doomed the effort to achieve a little savings: That’s not the case.

What happened is Democrats didn’t find common ground with the same ease they did blazing that trail around the rainy-day fund.

House and Senate Democrats agreed on forcing Sound Transit to change how it calculates the motor vehicle excise tax, which would result in some savings to owners of many of the 2.5 million vehicles in Sound Transit’s taxing district.

But Senate Democrats insisted that the loss of car tab revenue be offset in some manner, otherwise, Sound Transit would lack financial resources to carry out promised projects in Snohomish and Pierce counties on time.

House Democrats disagreed with the premise and rejected the means of keeping Sound Transit financially whole that had been suggested by their Senate friends.

By the time they enjoyed a Kumbaya moment, only a handful of hours remained in the 60-day session and Republicans had amendments they wanted to debate, which is kind of how the legislative game works.

A few hours proved more than enough time for Democrats to complete debates and votes on bills to exempt lawmakers from the state Public Records Act and reform the state’s use of deadly force law. Not enough, however, in their minds to deal with car tabs.

Democrats should anticipate questions about their inaction this fall.

Before any queries come and campaign claims fly on these subjects, one can expect incumbents in both parties will be getting their stories together on what turned out to be two of the session’s bigger surprises.

Jerry Cornfield is a political reporter for the Daily Herald in Everett.

More in Opinion

December developments on Poulsbo’s waterfront

Wow… does time truly fly! This is Scuttlebutt number 60, and the… Continue reading

December Rotary news

Kingston Prepares Start with a party. That was the counterintuitive message hundreds… Continue reading

There would be no woods, only rubble, if the two-inch long yellow-spotted millipedes didn’t consume vast amounts of fallen leaves. Photo courtesy Catherine Whalen.
Much to do in Hansville this December

It’s a good time to take a brisk walk in the woods.… Continue reading

It’s a country christmas in Port Gamble

Drum roll please … Port Gamble Country Christmas is here We are… Continue reading

Crossing the bridge to hunger

Sometimes suffering is obvious; sometimes it’s not. Sometimes we know someone is… Continue reading

What’s the deal with carbon?

Sometimes we hear people say things like “carbon is a big problem”… Continue reading

Do your civic duty and vote on Nov. 5

Have you voted yet? If not, remember your ballot has to be… Continue reading

Seeing systems around us

During October I participated with a few others in a four-week discussion… Continue reading

Martinez and Moffatt for School Board

Dear North Kitsap friends, This Nov. 5 is election day and there… Continue reading

Rights of nature are essential

Our world today isn’t particularly crowded with healthy views. However, a billionaire,… Continue reading

Kingston’s Stan Mack talks affordable housing

This is the third in a series of columns focusing on the… Continue reading

<em>The sparrow-sized Northern Pygmy Owl, an aggressive hunter with large feet and big eyes, has false eye spots at the back of its head that confuse predators.	 </em>Photo by Paul Bannick
The owl’s year and Christmas cheer

With their haunting calls, yellow, unblinking eyes, and the startling whoosh they… Continue reading