Should We Lower The Requirement to Pass School Construction Bonds?
The Eastmont School District's $117 million Capital Improvement Projects Bond has received 59.49% approval as of this post, one day before the final tally and certification of February Special Election results. The Douglas County Auditor Thad Duvall reported the number of ballots remaining to count that could have a bearing on the measure suggest the issue will likely fall short of the 60% super majority required to pass school bonds in Washington state.
The Eastmont School Board is planning to vote on whether to place the same bond package on the April Special Election calendar while the issue is still fresh in the minds of voters. The quick action is necessary because the deadline to qualify for the special election on April 23 is Friday, March 23rd, the same day the School Board will learn if the bond passed or failed on this month's ballot.
If the funding package appears on the April ballot, it would be the third try in under 17 months. While the initial bond package of $185 million garnered just 51% approval in November of 2022, a scaled back $117 million package will likely fall ever so shy of passage but still somewhere at over 59% approval. Majority support however, in both electons.
There has been legislation in Olympia this session to consider dropping the requirement to pass school construction bonds to 55%, halfway between the 60% super majority and the simple majority (50% plus 1 vote) required to approve school levies. Lawmakers would have to pass an amendment to the state constitution which would need 60% approval in both houses in the legislature and approval by a majority of voters statewide. The legislation did not get out of committee consideration according to 12th District Representative Mike Steele in a forum earlier this week.
Center Square reported (HB1843) proposed to drop the standard to pass a school construction bond to 55%.
The question up for debate is, should we move the goal posts for school construction bonds since they have proven difficult to pass at the 60% requirement?
Arguments for lowering the mark to pass school bonds:
- The 50% plus 1 vote is the standard to pass a property tax levy, raise sales taxes in taxing districts and elect candidate who can raise your taxes without a vote in many instances.
- Supporters point out that 18 of the 20 school bond elections in 2023 failed to reach 60% threshold to pass. Six measures garnered at least 55% approval but still fell short.
- Washington and just 10 other states have set a threshold of higher than 50% to pass school bonds.
Arguments against a lower threshold for passing school bonds:
Bonds are usually proposed for the funding of large capital projects, such as the construction of new school buildings.
12th District State Senator Brad Hawkins represents the Wenatchee and East Wenatchee area and sits on the Senate Education Committee. Hawkins has voted against a bill that would've lowered bond approval to 50 percent.
Hawkins has noted school bonds can significantly alter property taxes in communities and warrant a higher threshold.
Tax levies typically last for a couple of years, and must be reapproved on a regular basis, whereas bonds can be tied to property taxes for up to 25 years..