SAN FRANCISCO — By wide margins, Washington lawmakers last week reinstated a growth cap on state property tax rolls. Lawmakers acted Thursday in a special session called by Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire after the state Supreme Court ruled in early November that the 2001 ballot measure creating the property tax cap was illegal.Initiative 747 limited the growth in property tax revenue a local government entity could collect from its existing tax base to 1% annually. Revenue from properties added to the tax roll during a given year was excluded from the 1% cap.The fiscal impact of the tax cap falls on local governments and districts that rely on property taxes for revenues. If local government officials want to spend more than the amount permitted under the 1% cap, they must go to their voters with a referendum asking for a “levy lid lift.”Thursday’s actions, by an 86-to-8 vote in the House and a 39-to-9 vote in the Senate, reinstate the provisions of I-747.Lawmakers also approved another bill proposed by the governor, which allows homeowners with annual incomes of $57,000 or lower to defer half of their annual property tax bill until the home is sold. It is an extension of an existing program for senior citizens and the disabled.“I have traveled the state and heard from citizens worried about losing their homes because their property taxes are high due to skyrocketing property values,” Gregoire said in a statement issued after the bills passed. “It is a very real concern for people who have worked their entire lives to pay for their home and now fear losing it. That’s why I am pleased that the Legislature acted so decisively today to re-instate the one percent cap.”Unlike the bipartisan restoration of I-747, the tax deferral measure passed on a largely party-line vote, criticized by Republicans, who are the minority party in both houses.GOP lawmakers signaled more property tax fights are ahead when lawmakers convene in regular session Nov. 14.Republicans were unsuccessful Thursday when they proposed a bill that would have barred local governments and agencies from using any “banked capacity” from years when they collected property tax revenues at a rate less than the 1% annual growth cap, unless they seek voter approval.“We feel that if our local entities require more dollars to carry out their services, they should simply ask the voters,” said Rep. Mary Skinner of Yakima, the Republican caucus vice chairwoman. “If the people believe in a program, they will support it and find the dollars for it.”
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