Lawmakers can extinguish wildfire of illegal local income tax proposals

By JASON MERCIER  | 
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May 10, 2017

Has the state of civic education fallen so low that we need a primer on how a bill becomes a law? It seems the new preferred course of some is to pass an illegal ordinance in hopes of being sued and affecting the policy decision via a friendly court instead of making the case to the public and lawmakers why a policy should be implemented via our old friend the legislative democratic process.

First there was the income tax effort in the City of Olympia last year, then the ongoing drama in Seattle and now word that Port Townsend may be next to try to push through an illegal income tax in hopes of a court green lighting the tax. Whatever happened to building public support to change the law versus court shopping to get a judge to do what the people won't

As I mentioned yesterday there is a new bill in the legislature to try to stamp out this growing attempt by some local officials to nullify the state's constitutional and statutory protections against a graduated income tax. Discussing his proposal, Rep. Brandon Vick said in a press release

“Most feel the law is clear on this issue, no local income tax allowed. Given the recent action of some local governments that is not the case, and we need a strong and concise law to put a halt to this discussion. My bill would make the prohibition of a local income tax abundantly clear and final. Cities such as Seattle and Olympia seem to be confused or simply do not care where the public stands on this issue . . . From what I can tell, the council has not approached the Legislature either. I have not seen any bills this session that would allow for a local income tax. Instead of working the issue through their legislative delegation, it seems they would rather find a sympathetic court to side with them."

Based on existing constitutional case law and RCW 36.65.030 (Tax on net income prohibited), it is unfortunate that this new proposal is even necessary. Whether or not you support an income tax at the state or local level we should all be able to agree that the way to implement tax policy should be through the democratic process and not by trying to set up lawsuits in hope of finding a friendly judge.

Should Seattle, Port Townsend, or any other city wish to enact an income tax it should focus its efforts on engaging the people and its legislative delegation to propose this new authority in the legislature instead of passing illegal local ordinances to set up lawsuits. As things stand now, however, the legislature has the opportunity to help refocus this debate away from lawsuits and back to involving the people through the legislative process. 

Additional Information
History of income tax votes in Washington
Why did legislature pass 1984 local income tax ban?
Will Seattle try to adopt an illegal income tax?
KOMO radio interview on Port Townsend income tax proposal 
KVI radio interview on new local income tax ban bill