SEATTLE — Washington is one of nine states in the country that do not have an income tax, but if some Seattle leaders get their way, the city could be the first to defy the state constitution.
Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold is hoping to pass an income tax on Seattle residents by this summer. She is expected to submit an income tax proposal by May 31 and hopes to have a vote on the measure by July 10.
If city leaders approve the measure, they know they are waging a legal war that could take years to resolve.
In Seattle, it’s not the first time we’ve heard the rumblings of an income tax but supporters say this time it’s different
“There is huge momentum,” said Katie Wilson, general secretary of the Transit Riders Union, an organization whose mission goal is to "preserve, expand, and improve the public transportation system in Seattle and beyond."
Wilson said her group and others are helping Herbold draft an income tax proposal.
“Our state has the most regressive tax system in the country, that’s because we don’t have an income tax. We rely very heavily on sales and property taxes,” Wilson said.
Wilson added that the income tax would only affect the richest Seattle residents.
“What we’ve been saying, as an example, is a 1.5% tax on the income over $250,000 a year,” Wilson said.
The details are still being worked out on what income bracket will meet the threshold.
“We are only talking about taxing in excess of that threshold, so, for instance, if the threshold was $250,000 and you made $260,000 you are only taxed on the $10,000,” Wilson said.
“They are very proud of the fact that they are singling out just a small minority of the population subject to this tax and that’s really what makes it unconstitutional,” said Jami Lund, a senior policy analyst with the nonprofit think-tank Freedom Foundation.
The Freedom Foundation said it would violate the state constitution to tax a certain group differently.
“Equal treatment is why the constitution has a protection like this, we don’t let the majority persecute a minority,” Lund said.
The Washington Policy Center also said an income tax is a slippery slope.
“Our research shows that income taxes tend to start out on high earners and gradually creep down to include middle-income families and working families, that’s what happened in the federal income tax and most other states,” said Paul Guppy, vice president for research for the Washington Policy Center.
"That’s why we are trying to make sure this is something that affects the top 5 percent,” Wilson said.
Q13 News asked Wilson if she was certain the income tax would not trickle down to the middle class.
“It’s up to us to organize. We have a democracy; if we choose to use it, it’s up to us to make it work,” Wilson said.
If the measure passes the Seattle City Council, the Freedom Foundation could choose to sue.
Wilson said: Bring it on.
“Sometimes that is what you have to do, that's how progress is made,” Wilson said.
The Seattle City Attorney's Office said an income tax ordinance would be risky and a tough legal battle.
But attorneys for the city are helping to draft the proposal with the legal battle in mind.
They say the income tax battle could work its way up to the state Supreme Court and take several years to resolve.