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Gregoire to work for some tax relief
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — Gov. Christine Gregoire and legislative leaders said Monday they would move to restore some sort of property-tax relief if a recent court ruling that nullified a voter-approved tax cap is upheld.
"We need to make sure that people can afford to pay their property taxes," Gregoire told reporters during her regular press briefing.
Voters in 2001 overwhelmingly approved Initiative 747, which imposed a 1 percent cap on increases in state and local property-tax collections. King County Superior Court Judge Mary Roberts ruled I-747 was unconstitutional.
Attorney General Rob McKenna has appealed the ruling. Meanwhile, several Republican lawmakers said last week they would push legislation to restore the 1 percent cap.
Gregoire, a Democrat, said Monday that if the appeal falls short, she would work with the Legislature to come up with some type of tax relief, especially for elderly and low-income homeowners.
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate echoed Gregoire's concerns. But Gregoire and the Democrats offered no specific proposals. In fact, it's unclear whether they would push for a new tax cap or some other sort of relief — such as tax exemptions or deferrals for certain property owners.
Roberts ruled I-747 was unconstitutional because it was deceptive. She said voters were led to believe they were amending an earlier property-tax measure, I-722, which capped property-tax increases at 2 percent.
But I-722 had already been ruled unconstitutional. So I-747 was actually reducing the tax cap from its pre-I-722 level — up to 6 percent — down to 1 percent, Roberts said.
If the ruling stands, Gregoire said she and the Legislature would have to strike a "delicate balance" in replacing I-747 — something that provides tax relief but doesn't pinch local governments.
She said cities and counties have struggled to keep up with costs under the 1 percent cap. But, she added, "I clearly do not believe 6 percent is anything the public at large, particularly our lower income and our first[-time] homeowners, can afford."
Tim Eyman, who sponsored both I-747 and I-722, said he views the 1 percent cap as non-negotiable. "When the voters say 1 percent, they mean 1 percent," he said.
Eyman said if Roberts' ruling stands, he will push a new initiative to reimpose the 1 percent cap.
Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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