SPOKANE, Wash. — A Spokane city law granting a local property tax exemption to senior citizens and disabled veterans is unconstitutional, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The state Constitution requires all taxes to be uniform for the same class of property, the high court said.
Spokane city officials in 2015 created the local property tax exemption but the Spokane County assessor and treasurer refused to enact the ordinance and continued sending tax bills to senior citizens and the disabled veterans.
The high court ‘s vote was 7-2 to keep in place a state Court of Appeals ruling that had reversed an initial court decision in favor of the exemptions.
The issue began in 2004, when the city of Spokane got voter approval for a bond to pay for street repairs that would be paid off over 20 years
In 2014, the city proposed a new strategy to pay off the bonds, swapping out the money imposed under the bond levy with an equivalent increase in the city’s regular property tax rate.
Later that year, voters approved the property tax increase. The city told voters that people who qualify for a state tax exemption would continue to be exempted from a portion of the new levy.
To make the local tax increase more politically palatable, the city officials put in place the tax hike exemption for the senior citizens and disabled veterans.
City officials filed the original lawsuit when the county officials refused to enact the exemptions.
State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Madsen was among the two dissenters and said Washington state cities have the power to enact property tax exemptions.
The majority opinion said allowing the exemptions could usher in a patchwork system of property tax rules that would defeat the principle of uniformity of property taxes.