Several Democratic lawmakers ask court to allow income tax

Feb 4, 2019

The never-ending saga of the illegal Seattle income tax has taken a new twist. Several Democratic lawmakers have filed an amicus brief arguing Seattle (along with every other city in the state) already has the right to impose an income tax. If not, they argue, the longstanding and repeatedly affirmed state Supreme Court precedent preventing a graduated income tax should be overturned.

Signing on to the brief are state Senators Sam Hunt, Karen Keiser, Patty Kuderer, Joe Nguyen, Rebecca Saldaña and Lisa Wellman and State Representatives Sherry Appleton, Eileen Cody, Lauren Davis, Beth Doglio, Laurie Dolan, Joe Fitzgibbon, Noel Frame, Mia Gregerson, Nicole Macri, Cynthia Ryu and Sharon Wylie.

According to their brief:

“That a graduated income tax was barely (by a 5 to 4 decision) ruled to be unconstitutional 85 years ago is a restriction that has decimated the ability of the state legislature and local governmental entities to raise revenue in a way that does not cause additional harm to low and moderate income families.”

I feel like the state Supreme Court may have previously recommended a solution to this perceived problem before. Oh yes, the state Supreme Court in 1960 issued a ruling so timeless the current justices could simply re-issue it now:

"The argument is again pressed upon us that these cases were wrongly decided. The court is unwilling, however, to recede from the position announced in its repeated decisions. Among other things, the attorney general urges that the result should now be different because the state is confronted with a financial crisis. If so, the constitution may be amended by vote of the people. Such a constitutional amendment was rejected by popular vote in 1934."

In fact, the voters have rejected not one, not two, not three, but six proposed constitutional amendments to overturn state Supreme Court precedent preventing a graduated income tax.

Apparently not satisfied with these decisions by the voters (10 straight income tax rejections in total), the brief concludes:

“For the foregoing reasons, this Court should rule that the appropriate authority to enact a graduated tax on total income is found in the Optional Municipal Code. This Court should also conclude that it is time to reverse longstanding precedent prohibiting state and local governments from enacting graduated income taxes because such precedent is detrimental to the public interest and thus should encourage the Supreme Court to so rule.”

One silver lining found in this brief I suppose is when it mentions legislative proposals for a capital gains tax, it doesn’t call it an “excise tax.”

The most immediate impact of this brief is the likelihood that other lawmakers, who believe state law is clear on the question of an income tax, may also now feel inclined to file an amicus.

Perhaps, just perhaps, whether Washington has an income tax is a decision best left to the people and not the courts. Lawmakers are always free to try again to pass a constitutional amendment should the public now be demanding an income tax that they have previously and repeatedly rejected.