Democratic state senators had pushed to amend the Washington constitution to allow school bonds to pass with a simple majority, but they failed to win votes from two-thirds of members as required.
In a split primarily along party lines, 28 senators voted in favor of the constitutional amendment while 21 voted against it.
A number of school districts had urged lawmakers to amend the constitution and lower the threshold required for the passage of school bonds from 60 percent to a simple majority. Voters would have decided the fate of the constitutional amendment in November's general election had both chambers of the Legislature approved it with a two-thirds vote.
A number of Republican senators spoke against the proposed change, arguing that bonds should have to win more voter support because bonds result in increased property taxes for a longer period of time than levies.
“Indeed it is appropriate to have a higher threshold on certain votes,” said Sen. Hans Zeiger, a Republican who represents the 25th District, which includes Puyallup, Fife and other parts of Pierce County. “This vote we are taking here has such a threshold. It is a constitutional amendment and requires a higher threshold to pass.”
The vote came after legislative hearings in which high school students from the Bethel School District and the Port Angeles School District testified in favor of the change. Some described severe overcrowding and others described inadequate buildings with roof leaks and other damage.
Lawmakers in favor of lowering the threshold said it’s a fairness issue.
The Seattle school district recently passed a $1.4 billion capital levy to replace or modernize eight schools and make repairs in many others. Meanwhile, districts in less property-rich areas can’t raise enough money through a levy to pay for construction and frequently fail to clear the 60 percent threshold to pass a bond measure. For example, the Arlington School District in Snohomish County received 52.6 percent of votes in the February special election for its bond measure.
Democratic Sen. Emily Randall, who represents the 26th District that includes Bremerton, said she attended South Kitsap High School. She said her school district hasn’t successfully passed a bond measure for most of her lifetime.
“How can we tell kids that it’s fair that schools on Mercer Island and Bainbridge Island should be beautiful, well-maintained, state-of-the-art institutions but kids in Port Orchard don’t deserve that?” Randall said.