Throughout this legislative session, I have heard more times than I can remember how the interests of Seattle are at odds with Eastern Washington. But there is something my district in South Seattle shares with communities in the Yakima Valley: We can count ourselves among many throughout Washington who will see a big property tax hike under the state Senate Republican budget.
To fund their budget they rely on a levy swap, which they claim raises taxes only in “rich districts.” But school districts throughout Washington — including Union Gap, Zillah, Toppenish, Wapato and Mount Adams — will see an increase in taxes under their plan. Others will be forced to choose to raise their property taxes, sometimes by hundreds of dollars, if they vote to support their schools with a 10 percent levy. This is true in Yakima, Sunnyside, Naches Valley and Selah.
Just like many of you, the majority of people in my district can’t afford these tax hikes. Whether it is a working family or someone on a fixed income, taxpayers in this state are already struggling to make ends meet. I have lived in both rural farming communities in the Northwest as well as the city of Seattle. I understand how difficult it is to find solutions to complex problems that will work for our diverse communities and people in Washington.
School funding is one of those complex challenges, and what lawmakers do this year may well define our education system for a generation. In order to do this right, it will take a serious commitment from both Republicans and Democrats.
Unfortunately, the Senate budget raises property taxes in dozens and dozens of communities that can’t afford it. Meanwhile, Senate Republican budget negotiators are also refusing to come to the table with House Democrats who have asked for meetings repeatedly.
The funding approaches between the two budgets are stark. This is to be expected. But the political divide can only be breached by honest, good-faith negotiations. I know there are many Senate Republicans who want to reach across the aisle and work this out for their constituents. Like me, they believe that whether you live in Seattle or Selah, taxpayers should get the most for their dollar and know what it buys.
But raising taxes on some homeowners to buy lower taxes for others is not an equitable solution to our school funding question. After all, we all want our kids to succeed and our schools thrive. And though no one likes taxes, both Republicans and Democrats rely on them to fund our schools and balance their budgets.
The only way we will ever find solutions that work for all of us is for everyone to come to the negotiation table. This is what the people of this state expect of their leaders, no matter where they live.
* Rebecca Saldaña is the state senator for the 37th Legislative District, which covers much of South Seattle and parts of Renton.