Seattle City Council postpones massive business tax increase to comply with Governor’s OPMA proclamation

By JASON MERCIER  | 
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May 7, 2020

I’ve been a vocal and frequent critic of the Seattle City Council for willfully and knowingly violating state law to impose an illegal income tax. Today, however, I have to give the council kudos for fully committing to the restrictions outlined by Governor Inslee in his emergency proclamation temporarily suspending parts of the state’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

As reported by the Seattle Times:

“The Seattle City Council will stop deliberating a proposal to tax large corporations, council leaders said Thursday, citing a statewide coronavirus-emergency proclamation that restricts what public agencies can discuss during the health crisis . . .

The Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA)-related proclamation, issued by Gov. Jay Inslee in March and extended until May 31, says agencies are prohibited from meeting in person and from deliberating matters remotely, ‘unless those matters are necessary and routine matters or are matters necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and the current public health emergency.’”

The possible violation of the Governor’s OPMA proclamation was first raised by Seattle blogger Kevin Schofield. Kevin wrote on April 6:

“As I’ve written before, one of Governor Inslee’s emergency proclamations suspended some provisions of the Open Public Meetings Act and the Public Records Act, but also prohibited public agencies (including the City Council) from taking ‘action’ on anything that isn’t either a response to the COVID-19 emergency or ‘necessary and routine.’ A $500 million per year tax in perpetuity is hardly routine, and it’s an open question as to whether allocating the first $200 million in the first year makes it a ‘COVID-19 response.’  If it does, then that’s a huge loophole: the Council could pass any bill just by throwing in some ancillary COVID relief.”

Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González wrote this in a memo today explaining the decision to remove the business tax increase from consideration:

“I want to reiterate that it is my intent to strictly comply with Proclamation 20-28 and this legal guidance, so long as it is in effect. In doing so, we have enhanced our legislative review process by requiring that the CAO, after consultation with Council Central Staff, provide my office with its legal opinion as to whether any legislation does or does not comport with Proclamation 20-28 prior to both introduction and final action of all legislation. This same analysis must also be applied to any matters that a Councilmember proposes for a briefing and discussion in a public meeting. As provided by the CAO, an ‘action’ under the OPMA is broadly defined to include even those subjects that are being discussed but not voted upon.”

Credit where credit is due. The Seattle City Council has taken a strong stand for fully complying with the restrictions outlined by the Governor’s proclamation temporarily waiving provisions of the OPMA. Other government officials should take note and do the same.