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Seattle income tax supporters eager to go to court

Washington State Supreme Court. (Harvey Barrison, Flickr)

A movement is growing and aimed at establishing a Seattle income tax. But the effort isn’t just meant to create a new form of government income. It’s meant to take the city to court.

RELATED: Mayoral candidates pitch a Seattle income tax

“The group of folks pushing us to make this decision to test the authority in the state Supreme Court will hold lawmakers accountable for the decisions they make in not just in the short term, but in the long term as well,” said Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold.

Seattle income tax promoters are essentially saying “sue me” to people who would challenge the idea.

“There is a legal strategy behind what we are proposing right now and we believe strongly that the time is now,” she said.

“Groups of folks” Herbold references include the Transit Riders Union, which has promoted the “Trump Proof Seattle” slogan and a Seattle income tax as a means of doing so. Supporters have held town hall meetings to further promote the idea. They argue that it will raise money at a time when President Donald Trump has threatened federal funding for the city. Herbold told Seattle Morning News that she is supporting a proposed council resolution that will push the income tax further. She hopes to get the resolution passed by July 10.

The hope is that the Seattle income tax will be legally challenged and head to the state’s Supreme Court. A previous court decision on the books currently prevents income taxes. But supporters hope a new decision at the court level will cement the potential for the tax statewide.

“This is definitely a case of significant state interest,” Herbold said. “The Supreme Court in the State of Washington has a pattern of taking on cases they merit with significant state interest.”

Seattle income tax

Herbold said that there are a lot of details yet to be ironed out, but notes that the Trump Proof Seattle crowd has mentioned a 1.5-percent income tax on Seattle residents earning $250,000 a year. That has the potential to raise $125 million. Aside from that, the resolution addresses five issues around the income tax:

• What types of income can and will be taxed
• Threshold of income that is taxed
• Percentage being taxed
• Use of revenue
• Administrative mechanisms needed to collect revenue

It should be noted that the tax, currently, is only proposed for Seattle residents. It would not affect people who live outside the city and come into town for work.

Herbold said that Washington’s regressive tax structure has put the state in the position it is currently in, with underfunded education and mental health services. She believes the income tax is a step toward a more equitable and efficient funding system.

“I believe there’s a great amount of urgency,” Herbold said. “… Our relying on property taxes and sales taxes makes Washington sate the single most regressive state in the nation when it comes to our tax structure. That means earners making $20,000 a year or less take two months of pay to pay off their yearly tax bill. Whereas the 1 percent pay off their yearly tax bill with six days pay.”

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