The Daily News adds another editorial voice to those opposing efforts to get the state Supreme Court to overturn its previous rulings that a state income tax is unconstitutional. The efforts hinge on getting a local government to pass a municipal income tax, which would then be challenged in court in hopes that the current court would revisit the earlier decisions.
The editorial board writes,
The current court is very liberal and may be open to overturning the income tax rulings from the more conservative courts of the past.
Now, politicians think they have the path to victory all figured out. Get an income tax measure passed somewhere in the State of Washington. It doesn’t matter in what city or municipality a measure gets approved, the entire process is to just get something before the courts.
Once the tax issue is before the courts (again,) supporters are confident the justices will find some way to invalidate the Supreme Court decisions of the past and strike a new course.
The first city targeted was Olympia, but voters there rejected a local income tax initiative last November. The Olympian editorial board wrote that the initiative was “not an effective strategy.” The mayor and a former state Supreme Court Chief Justice called the initiative flawed, unworkable and illegal.
Seattle is now seen as more likely, with the city council unanimously endorsing a resolution in favor of a progressive municipal income tax, as we’ve written.
Back in 2002, the Washington State Tax Structure Study Committee proposed an income tax. In an appendix to that report, legal scholar Hugh Spitzer, the committee’s vice chair, wrote,
Today there are only two states (Pennsylvania and Washington) whose courts have not reversed earlier decisions treating income as property. In all other states where this issue has been considered, the income tax is treated as a form of excise tax or in a category of its own. Accordingly, there is a reasonable likelihood that if the Washington State Legislature or voters enacted an income tax today, Washington’s courts would approach the issue with a fresh view and might very well decide the matter in a manner consistent with the dominant view in other states with similar constitutional provisions.
Spitzer, however, told the Olympia City Council last year, that a municipal income tax would likely not pass muster with the state Supreme Court.
According to the Olympian newspaper,
Spitzer sees the Olympia proposal as a “test case” that will attempt to address the constitutionality of the state’s ban on an income tax. However, he predicts that a court will rule that code cities such as Olympia cannot tax individual income.
“People will wind up being quite disappointed,” Spitzer told the council.
From The Daily News editorial,
We’re not sure income tax supporters are so confident, instead maybe desperate…
Voters have said no to an income tax on nine separate occasions. The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled multiple times indicating a graduated income tax is unconstitutional.
The Times editorial board makes the case that the proposed municipal income tax complicates statewide discussion of tax policy. And, as Spitzer’s comments in 2002 suggest, the proper vehicle for a reconsideration of the court’s previous ruling is either Legislative action or a voter-approved initiative.
Nonetheless, sometime this summer, it’s likely Seattle will give the court an opportunity to revisit the previous rulings. We’re not making any predictions.