School districts are allowed to raise local levies to fund things that are not “basic education.” The state limits the amount they can raise to a percentage of the total they receive in state and federal funding. This is so that districts like Bellevue don’t raise twice as much as districts like Yakima. The standard formula is that districts can raise up to 24% of what we call the “levy base,” the total state and federal funding. Some districts are allowed to raise more for obscure historical reasons. For example Bellevue is allowed to raise 30%, Lake Washington 25%, and Seattle 34%.
The amount districts get resulting from initiative 728 and 732 is substantial – it could be as much as $750 or more per student. We’ve had to suspend these initiatives this year, which means that the levy base for the district goes down. If the levy base goes down, the amount that a district can collect in local property taxes goes down, even though voters have already voted to approve the higher amount. It’s like the voters wrote a check that the districts are being prohibited from cashing.
HB 1776 allows districts to compute their levy base as if they were still getting the 728 and 732 money. This doesn’t cost the state money and allows local voters control over what they do.
We tried to pass this bill last year right at the end of the session but it got hung up in the budget discussions. We had it up for a vote on the last day but did not have time to finish the debate. There are complex timing issues about school levy planning that make it important to pass in December for districts that have levies on the ballot this year. To make this happen the governor needs to call a special session. We are in Olympia for a few days in December anyway and this would therefore cost very little money and should be relatively non-controversial. For her to do this she will need to be convinced that the House and Senate are willing to pass only this bill and not get sidetracked doing other stuff that can wait for January.
Waiting for January will needlessly complicate the lives of districts that have local levies in front of voters in February.