The Levy Swap

This is a description of the levy swap proposal written in 2010. It needs to be updated – my apologies as I restructure this information.

The basic idea is to do a revenue-neutral swap of state property tax for local levies, staying within the constitutional 1% limit for regular property taxes. This would make the statutory $3.60 per 1,000 set aside for public education a meaningful, rather than hollow, commitment, and bring $1 billion of existing local excess levies into a more regular and dependable tax structure – the statewide property tax.

  • Raise the state property tax from the current $2.03 per thousand dollars of property value to $3.20, raising about $1 billion in funding that is constitutionally dedicated to public school funding.
  • Distribute the new money to school districts using the normal school funding formulas, and simultaneously reduce each district’s local levy by the amount of new money they receive. This guarantees that each district will not be hurt financially by what is effectively a revenue neutral ‘swap’ of local for state tax collections in each school district.
  • Allow state property tax collections to grow as property values recover from the downturn, helping us deliver on our constitutional requirements.
  • Reset local levy lids in a simpler way, so that local communities better understand the relationship between their local levies and school programs and services. Set a simple per student levy lid that naturally adjusts for inflation and student growth in district.

With these changes we would no longer be as dependent on “levy equalization,” hundreds of millions that we use to correct for the fact that some districts don’t have the property base to collect similar amounts of levies. These districts will be better served by increased state funding and less reliance on levies. We will still need some LEA system, but smaller and with a more focused formula.

In addition, we should make local school levies more reliable, since they are likely to be a significant part of school funding well into the future. Instead of voting to renew levies every 4 years we should amend the constitution to allow voters to approve levies that would stay in place until the district asks voters to increase them.

Together these changes would result in a more stable system, a system that grows as we come out of the recession, and one that distributes funding more fairly across the state.

The following documents may be useful to people:

For those who want to mess around with the data in Excel or another spreadsheet program the following links are to a CSV formatted file, and a Word document describing each of the columns and showing how it is calculated.