Shift has repeatedly pointed out (here and here) that the City of Olympia’s income tax initiative this fall is primarily a liberal test case for overturning the state’s 80-year-old ban on a state income tax. As even the ultra-liberal Olympian editorialized, “King County activists wanted to use Olympia as a test case for the legality of a graduated income tax, but it was clear early on that cities lack authority to enact such a tax.”
That clarity didn’t stop local judges from allowing the unconstitutional initiative from going forward. So, on the ballot it will go.
Hopefully voters will save the city from wasting money defending the measure in court – and protect the rest of the state from the far-Left will of our current State Supreme Court – by heeding the words of a former chief justice of that court, Gerry Alexander. Justice Alexander said “as a lifelong Olympian I am opposed to the proposed income tax. My concerns are numerous, but start with the fact that the tax would be unlawful, In that regard, see RCW 36.65.030 which provides that a city ‘shall not levy a tax on net income.’ On top of that, the Washington Supreme Court has twice ruled that graduated income taxes violate the 14th Amendment to the State constitution.”
If misguided Olympia voters do approve the tax measure, we can expect to see it in the news for years to come as it works its way through the courts. As the Tacoma News Tribune writes today, “hope for supporters of a statewide income tax in Washington doesn’t come often. But a citizen initiative on the ballot in Olympia this fall represents at least a glimmer. That’s because the measure, which would levy an income tax on Olympia residents whose household income exceeds $200,000, is likely to end up in the courts if it passes. A legal challenge could give the state Supreme Court a chance to reverse its 1930s decisions that struck down graduated state income taxes as unconstitutional.”
And, or course, Democrats in the legislature could continue their pro-income-tax jihad – it is in their platform as a “guiding principle” after all – by trying again pass a state income tax. Since Jay Inslee has already proposed an income tax on capital gains, one can assume he would be only too happy to sign such a measure, though in typical Inslee fashion the TNT writes “Gov. Jay Inslee has said he doesn’t support a statewide graduated income tax, though he hasn’t promised he would veto one should it cross his desk. He did advocate in 2014 for a capital gains tax, which taxes some income, though it didn’t pass the Legislature.”
It would much easier if voters in Olympia saved the rest of the state the trouble of waiting on Inslee and the Democrats to come up with an income tax they can slip through the legislature. But that is perhaps not a hope worth betting on.