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Effort to make school bonds easier to pass has failed in Washington state legislature

Bond proposals in the state need a 60 percent majority for approval; the Washington senate has rejected the latest effort to lower that requirement.

School districts in Washington state looking for money to build schools will continue to need a 60 percent supermajority to pass bond issues. A proposed constitutional amendment to lower that requirement to a simple majority has failed in the state senate.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review reports that Republicans who support the status quo say taxpayers need the protection of a higher level of public support for a tax levy that can last as long as 30 years.

Arguments that a minority of voters shouldn’t be able to thwart the needs for improved school facilities didn’t sway enough senators. 

“We have schools that are so overcrowded I wonder how the fire marshal allows those schools to open their doors,” says Sen. Lisa Wellman, the amendment’s prime sponsor.

Some school districts have struggled for years to win voter approval for bond issues, collecting more than 50 percent support but failing to get the supermajority. Others districts gain that supermajority, but still have bond issues fail because not enough voters cast ballots to meet turnout requirements based on the percentage of ballots cast in the last general election.

The latter is a particular problem in the years after presidential elections with record turnout, Wellman says.

But Sen. Mark Schoesler says lowering the higher vote requirements could result in huge tax increases in some districts with “zero protections against costs.”

Republicans proposed to change the constitutional amendment to require a 55 percent majority to pass a school bond and exempt construction from prevailing wage requirements that they contend increase the costs of the projects. But the original amendment had no reference to prevailing wage requirements, and that change was blocked by a ruling it was outside the scope of the original proposal.

The debate apparently changed no minds. All 28 yes votes came from Democrats; the 21 no votes came from Republicans and Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Democrat who caucuses with the GOP. A constitutional amendment needs 33 yes votes.

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