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Mayor Durkan: Seattle should appeal court ruling on income tax

Former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, left, is administered the oath of office for Seattle mayor by U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Jones on Nov. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Seattle’s new mayor believes the city should appeal the recent court decision that states its income tax is illegal.

“It’s my view it should be appealed,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said The Seattle Times Facebook Live Event that ranged in questions from city growth to her stance on leaf blowers. “I think a superior court judge is never in the position to decide what the law for the whole state would be.”

RELATED: Seattle’s income tax might not make it to the Supreme Court

King County Superior Court Judge John Ruhl ruled against the income tax on November 22 and several Seattleites are suing the city. But Seattle has always had its sights set on bringing the issue to the state Supreme Court. This is to get an interpretation of the state law changed, and in turn, open up taxing authority for all Washington cities.

The city is now deciding whether to appeal Judge Ruhl’s ruling. Durkan’s statement that a superior court judge shouldn’t decide the “law for the whole state” is in line with proponents who argue that the Supreme Court can alter the law to allow cities to impose an income tax.

While Seattle’s new mayor said she wants to discuss the matter with City Attorney Pete Holmes first, she does favor the tax.

“What I’m trying to say is: I want to talk with my lawyer first,” Durkan said. “What are our chances? What is it going to cost? Once we have that information, consult with the city council, and then decide how to move forward.”

RELATED: How Seattle considered spending its income tax

“I think it’s a long shot,” she added. “I think under the current state of the law – both state law that prohibits cities from imposing income taxes as well as the constitutional provisions — will strike down our income tax law, but I think we have to find the answer to it.”

Durkan also said that the city could use a recent court ruling on another controversial Seattle tax — the ammunition tax. It was challenged in court and the ruling used language Durkan believes could be used in a case to “grant broader power to cities” to levy taxes.

Before the City Council voted 9-0 to approve the tax in July, Durkan’s predecessor made it clear he expects a fight.

“We welcome that legal challenge. We welcome that fight,” Mayor Ed Murray said. If the city wins that battle, “it won’t just be Seattle that’s doing a progressive income tax,” he added.

The 2.25 percent income tax would apply to individuals making more than $250,000 or married couples making over $500,000. The city estimated the new tax would raise $140 million annually to pay for transit, housing, carbon reduction, and any federal money that is lost.

Historically, Washington state voters have rejected income-tax related measures several times. However, voters did approve an income tax in 1932, but the state Supreme Court ruled the measure unconstitutional the following year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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