Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As we move into the refreshing chill of autumn, I hope this letter finds you and your family in good health and spirits. Today I am writing to address two pressing issues that several of you have contacted my office about: property taxes and surging gas prices.
Property taxes and assessments
Many of us are coming to terms with our recent property assessments and taxes. While some look forward to seeing an annual increase in their property’s value, others are understandably anxious that a higher assessment means increased taxes.
Residents of the Tri-Cities area, in particular, have observed a pronounced rise in their 2023 home appraisal values this year. That surge is primarily attributed to the alignment of property valuations with market rates as of the end of 2022. It should be noted that those adjustments took place before recent changes in our booming housing market, driven by shifts in interest rates.
Will this affect your tax bill? In short, yes, but the increase probably won’t match the exact percentage of your new assessment. Washington state law mandates that appraisals align with yearly market values, reflecting the actual sale prices of properties in the area. However, the increase in your taxes rarely mirrors the percentage of your new assessed value.
Additionally, it should be noted that the county assessor doesn’t determine your property taxes. They are established by the specific taxing district in which your home resides. The yearly amount you’re required to pay can vary due to factors such as levies, bonds, public safety initiatives, and determinations made by other taxing authorities.
- According to Washington state law, there’s a cap limiting the annual levy collection to a 1% increase from the preceding year’s budget—unless a property tax hike is approved by the electorate. That means, as our communities expand, significant escalations in property taxes are often tempered.
From a legislative standpoint, there’s encouraging news that might be new to you. This year, the Washington State Legislature approved House Bill 1355—property tax relief to older adults, those with disabilities, and our veterans. This bipartisan bill ensures they receive the exemptions and deferrals they deserve.
Here are some key provisions of the bill:
- Property tax exemptions: The bill establishes a framework for property tax exemptions for eligible older adults, individuals with disabilities, and veterans. This exemption helps reduce the property tax burden for these groups, enabling them to stay in their homes and communities.
- Property tax deferrals: House Bill 1355 includes provisions for property tax deferrals. That means qualifying individuals can delay paying their property taxes, reducing any financial strain while helping to ensure they can stay in their homes.
- Eligibility criteria: The legislation clarifies specific eligibility requirements for seniors, individuals with disabilities, and veterans for property tax relief benefits. To learn more, click here.
Although I’m grateful for the passage of this bill, my efforts to provide property tax relief are ongoing. As your representative, I am steadfastly seeking further ways to help. I’m exploring measures and collaborating with my legislative colleagues and other experts to find solutions to ease the property tax strain on our residents.
- For more insights into the assessment process, I encourage you to consult the Benton County Assessor or the Franklin County Assessor.
Surging gas prices
Skyrocketing gas prices overshadowed our summer—some of the highest in the nation. The surge in fuel costs caused many Washingtonians to reconsider or cancel their summer travel plans. Although some elected officials have reported otherwise, the reasons behind these escalating prices are not corporate greed or avarice. The most significant factor is the cap-and-trade program that rolled out in January.
In 2020 and 2021, the majority party sponsored and approved ambitious emission reduction efforts with House Bill 1091 and Senate Bill 5126. Unsurprisingly, the cost of those proposals is now trickling down to consumers. As you can see in the chart below, although the cap-and-trade program has noble environmental goals, it levies a heavy price on regular citizens—especially those on tight budgets.
The cap-and-trade program, which forces companies to purchase pollution allowances, has inevitably led to those additional costs being passed on to consumers. In August 2023, the carbon fee was $63.03—which far surpassed initial estimates. That increase has directly affected our pocketbooks, pushing Washington’s already high gas prices significantly above the national average.
Additionally, our agricultural community, the heartbeat of our state, was assured that the cap-and-trade program’s costs would not be passed on to them. But, disappointingly, that assurance remains unfulfilled.
- Thus far, the majority party has disregarded the plight of farmers who need to get their goods to market—despite the introduction of House Bill 1780 in 2023—a bill aimed at providing the agricultural community relief.
I am committed to supporting environmental policies that genuinely benefit our beautiful state and its future, but those efforts need to be efficient and cost-effective. The cap-and-trade program doesn’t meet that standard. Technically, it does not even reduce pollution. It merely puts a price on emissions and caps the total allowable amount. Companies must buy and sell emission allowances, which shift rather than decrease pollution.
Navigating the road ahead
Considering the high costs and limited efficacy of the cap-and-trade program, in the upcoming session, lawmakers must find solutions. Here are some avenues that should be considered:
- Amend: Change some of the agency guidelines for cap-and-trade to reduce the carbon credit costs and, in turn, fuel prices. Click here to access a detailed letter suggesting some improvements.
- Rebate: With state revenues on the rise because of the selling of carbon credits, residents deserve immediate relief. In a proposal spearheaded by my seatmate, Rep. April Connors, monetary rebates for vehicle owners of $100 per individual or $200 per family could be provided.
- Repeal: Considering its clear limitations, repealing the cap-and-trade program should be on the table.
As residents of beautiful Eastern Washington, we all value the sense of community, history, and stunning landscapes the 8th District offers. It’s that shared commitment to hard work, family values, and responsible governance that drives my legislative agenda.
The well-being of our district guides every legislative action I undertake. As we approach the 2024 legislative session, I promise to keep you informed on public policy, bills, and my continued endeavors to advocate for your interests.
Thank you for your trust. Together, let’s build an even brighter future for the mighty 8th District.