Zarelli’s levy-swap idea still alive and kicking

Ridgefield Republican Joe Zarelli might have resigned from the state Senate in May, but one of his policy ideas was a topic of talk at last week’s press briefing on the 2013 legislative session.

That topic: increasing the amount the state pays for K-12 education, and more specifically, levy swaps.

A so-called levy swap has been floated by a couple state lawmakers as a way to address a state Supreme Court order that the state spend more money on education. Such policy changes would essentially raise property taxes at the state level, distribute that money to school districts throughout the state, and lower the amount of money individual school districts can raise through local property tax levies.

Proponents of a levy swap say it would even the playing field between school districts in property-poor areas and districts in property-rich areas. They also say the swap would be revenue neutral, though it could possibly mean wealthier areas would pay more property taxes for schools while poorer areas would pay less.

In a November editorial published in the Seattle Time, state Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said a property-tax levy swap is “the best bad idea we have” for addressing the Supreme Court mandate on education — also known as the McCleary decision.

He also discussed the topic on Thursday at a press briefing about the 2013 legislative session.

Hunter pointed out that there were some differences between his levy swap idea and Zarelli’s, but ultimately, the plan is “a possible response to solving part of the McCleary problem. … the alternative is to raise real taxes for that instead of this arrangement to adjust who’s paying for (basic education).”

Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said levy swaps can’t be ignored as state lawmakers figure out how to put more state dollars into public schools.

“The core concept of the levy swap has to be on the table” Litzow said. “Between the Zarelli and the Hunter idea, those are the only plans I’ve seen so far that actually address the issue” of reducing school districts’ reliance on local levies to pay for basic education.

The 105-day Washington Legislature convenes in Olympia today.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or or or

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