Sen. John Braun: Democrats’ continued crusade for higher property taxes proves they no longer respect will of the people


One day in November 2007, a Democrat-controlled Legislature, called back into session by a Democrat governor, voted to restore a 1% cap on the growth of property taxes. The tax limit, approved by voters in 2001 through Initiative 747, had been overturned by the state Supreme Court a few weeks earlier on a technicality.

The University of Washington’s office of state relations summed it up this way: “The limitation bill passed easily from both chambers and was signed instantaneously by the Governor. The most popular person in Olympia yesterday seemed to be some fellow called “Will of the People” who was referred to by virtually every speaker in committee or on the floor.”

Republicans know and continue to respect the will of the people. Democrats act like they have either forgotten or don’t care.

On that day 17 years ago, 39 of the Senate’s 49 members supported the 1% cap. Among them were 22 of the 32 Democratic senators.

How things have changed. Now a majority of the Senate’s Democrats are backing Senate Bill 5770, which would lift the cap to 3% and clear the way for the largest property-tax increase in Washington history. Three of these senators exemplify the swing away from the will of the people; as legislators in 2007 they voted to reinstate the 1% limit, and today they’re sponsoring the bill to do the opposite.

The bill has already been passed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, with only one Democrat joining all of the Republican members in opposition. Ahead of that Feb. 5 vote, we were told how local governments are short on revenue and need this additional taxing authority. That is fundamentally untrue. On average, county governments statewide saw an 82% increase in revenue between 2012 and 2022. It was nearly 72% for cities statewide, on average. By any measure – median household income, inflation rate – local governments are faring far better than the average Washington family.

The push to lift the 1% cap seems to be driven primarily by King County. This past March its executive threatened “harmful cuts to essential services” if legislators didn’t do something about the tax-growth limit. Within weeks, all but one of the King County Democrats serving on Ways and Means proposed SB 5770, even though King County revenues had increased more than 90% from 2012-2022.

But here’s a fact Democrats aren’t volunteering: Local governments have always been able to exceed the 1% cap. They simply must obtain voter approval. SB 5770 would empower local government to take more of your money without asking, or even explaining.

I expect the majority will defend its vote in the Senate chamber, if and when it happens, by saying this is simply a tool for local government to have, and what happens from there is up to the locals. Wrong answer.

If our state’s largest county truly doesn’t have enough money to maintain essential services like law enforcement, someone should take a hard look at where all that tax revenue is going. One county’s poor spending-priority list is no excuse for enabling the biggest property-tax increase in state history. Washington families must set priorities to live within their means, and government should also. Notice the county government says it will cut the most critical services if it isn’t allowed to raise taxes. Is that what you do with your family’s budget?

Republicans have offered multiple proposals that would, for instance, help local governments rebuild their public-safety infrastructure (SB 6090) or divert part of specific state-level revenue streams to cities and counties (SB 5568, SB 5404). Any of these policies would help a county or city that is truly strapped for cash. Despite bipartisan sponsorship, all of them died while SB 5770 moved forward.

Who hurts most when property taxes go up? Everyone who either owns property or rents a home – which means almost every adult. Because property taxes are regressive, lower-income people will be hurt more, as a larger share of their income must go to housing. Several members of the public spoke at a press conference we held the morning of Feb. 8 to sound the alarm about SB 5770; all zeroed in on how the bill is going to make housing even harder to afford.

The fact that higher property taxes trickle down to affect renters seems to elude some Democrats. Then again, some continue to side with Gov. Jay Inslee in disputing that their cap-and-trade law basically trickles down to add 50 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas. But there can be no question that the same legislators who complain about the lack of housing and the regressive nature of Washington’s tax code will make both situations worse if SB 5770 becomes law.

There can also be no question that the “will of the people” is being seen in Olympia this year like never before. Voters have put a record six initiatives before the Legislature; four are about protecting themselves from higher costs. Democrats can see that, so you wonder why they have charged ahead with such an unfriendly tax proposal.

Some of the answer may have come in a question at our news conference. A reporter noted how the associations that represent local governments are wanting the “flexibility” SB 5770 would provide – apparently that refers to the power to approve a higher tax rate without voter approval. I gently reminded him that senators aren’t elected by associations, but by the people of our districts.

Republicans are listening to the people and respecting their will. The continued movement of this property-tax bill over the objection of Republicans shows our Democratic colleagues are failing at both. They need to do better.

Sen. John Braun of Centralia serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.