Never-give-up income taxers hope Sup. Court grants their most cherished wish

Washington Democrats’ desire for a state income tax is relentless. The national party symbol is the donkey, but perhaps Rick Astley is a more suitable inspiration for local Dems – they’re never gonna give up on a state income tax.

As long as Washington remains one of nine states without an income tax, state Democrats and left-wing groups will keep pushing for one. Of course, during the many years that Democrats controlled both houses in the Legislature and the governor’s office, they could have passed an income tax at any time.

Thanks to state Supreme Court precedent, however, they would have had to charge everyone the same rate. The progressive dream is for a progressive income tax, not a flat tax, so that plan held little appeal.

Instead, groups on the left keep trying to set up test cases on local income taxes. If they can engineer the right scenario, the state Supreme Court will need to weigh in – and maybe it would overturn the precedent that requires a flat tax. Activists in Olympia last year tried to set up this scenario with a local income tax scheme, but voters rejected it.

Cynically riding the wave
The latest effort is from a Seattle group trying to ride the wave of Trump opposition to an income tax win. Calling itself Trump-Proof Seattle, the group posits that a city income tax is needed to fund projects the Trump administration won’t, or to backfill any federal funding cuts.

You’ve got to hand it to them, as a pitch to Seattle voters, that’s good marketing. The pitch is new, but the goal is the same as ever: set up a test case and hope the Supreme Court opens the door for a progressive income tax.

“Washington State desperately needs a statewide progressive income tax, and we see passing a measure in Seattle as a strong step in that direction,” the group says.

Most interestingly, Trump-Proof Seattle isn’t shy about predicting success. It expects a friendly audience in the current state Supreme Court. The group posted:

“We expect that today’s progressive State Supreme Court will reverse those rulings, based on legal developments in Washington and other states since the 1930s. But in order for them to do this, first a measure needs to be passed and challenged!”

Maybe they’re right. Maybe the current state Supreme Court is itching to overturn precedent on income taxes. It’s important to remember, this is still an idea statewide voters have spurned nine times. As recently as 2010, voters rejected a “high earners” income tax with a 64.15% no vote (and keep in mind, polling at the start of that campaign showed 58% of voters were favorable). Maybe that will give a little pause to those who are so gung-ho to impose a state income tax on us.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.