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John Burbank: Seattle’s income tax aims to fix a system that ‘coddles the wealthy’

Supporters of Seattle's income tax applaud as the city council approves the measure. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The man who played a critical role in getting a citywide income tax to a vote by the Seattle City Council says the city will “absolutely” collect from it.

“We understand that there will be a legal challenge, but we feel like we are on the legal high ground,” Economic Opportunity Institute Executive Director John Burbank told Seattle’s Morning News. “Once those are resolved, we will be collecting this tax on high-income households.”

The Economic Opportunity Institute is a left-leaning think tank.

Burbank and the institute spent more than a decade figuring out a way to implement an income tax within a city in Washington. That effort followed the failure to pass a statewide income tax in 2010.

The Institute targeted Olympia, which shot the tax down in 2016, and then moved on to Seattle. In Seattle, the idea quickly took hold.

Timeline: The road to an income tax in Seattle

Burbank argues that, unlike what some believe, income is not property. Property is an actual good.

“Why it’s considered controversial is because our current tax system coddles the wealthy and movement of income to the top and punishes the poor,” he said. “Some people like that system and benefit from it and don’t want to see it changed.”

Burbank says fewer people in low- and middle-class households believe the income tax will have a negative impact on their lives.

Under our current tax system, the middle class is paying at least 10 percent of their income, according to Burbank. A poor family, meanwhile, has to work into March before they meet their tax obligations. A wealthy family is “done” by January.

With a citywide income tax, the plan is to reduce other taxes, such as property tax, which have become such a burden on Seattleites. Individuals will be taxed on all income that exceeds $250,000 or more. A married couple will be taxed on everything over $500,000.

The tax will raise an estimated $140 million a year.

And yes, the city will know, at least to some extent, how much people make in order to ensure compliance, Burbank says.

Listen to the entire interview here.

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