Income tax ban falls short in Senate

By JASON MERCIER  | 
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Mar 7, 2017

What a major bummer! Despite recent comments indicating bipartisan opposition to imposing an income tax in Washington state, the Senate failed to advance SJR 8204 (income tax ban). The vote was 27-22 in favor but 33 votes were need to send the proposed constitutional amendment to the House for consideration. 

There were numerous comments made during the floor debate from those opposed to SJR 8204 that there isn't support for an income tax but voting to ban one was a "waste of time." 

Why was the Senate considering an income tax ban? For 84 years, Washington case law has prohibited a graduated income tax. Since 1934, the Legislature has sent the voters 5 constitutional amendments to overturn those court rulings but they have all been rejected by voters. Failing to get voter buy-in for a constitutional amendment to allow a graduated income tax, another 4 ballot measures trying to call an income tax and “excise tax” have also been sent to voters. Those too were rejected bringing a resounding no from the voters the last 9 times they have been asked to approve an income tax

Unwilling to take no for an answer, income tax supporters have changed strategies and are now trying to get a city to adopt an income tax to create a legal test case to overturn the state’s 84 year old ban. Their first local income tax effort was in Olympia last year but that also was rejected by voters. Now they have turned their attention to Seattle. Discussing their Seattle income tax test case strategy proponents say

"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!"

Thus enter SJR 8204. We constantly hear from elected officials (with the exception of handful of lawmakers in Seattle) that they don’t support an income tax and there is no danger of one. SJR 8204 provided lawmakers a chance to allow voters to unequivocally keep Washington income tax free. 

Make no mistake, a vote against SJR 8204 was a vote to keep the door cracked open for the courts to reverse 84 years of case law and impose an income tax without a constitutional amendment. 

A companion income tax ban in the House (HJR 4207) didn't receive a public hearing. 

Now all eyes will turn to Seattle to see if the city will embrace the role of income tax guinea pig to try to set up a test case. 

Additional Information 
Let voters decide ban on income tax
SJR 8204/HJR 4207: Prohibiting a personal state or local income tax by amending the state constitution
Rival Political Strategies In Play Over Progressive Income Tax
History of income tax votes in Washington
Judge rules Olympia income tax proposal illegal