We’ve written extensively of municipal initiatives with statewide consequences. And most, but not all, of the examples involved Seattle. SeaTac, after all, was the first city to pass a $15 minimum wage initiative in 2013. But from the elevated minimum wage to paid family leave to a city income tax, Seattle has been the state’s leader in progressive municipal politics.
And it’s not gone unnoticed around the state. The Yakima Herald-Republic reports,
A topic for Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce’s governmental affairs meeting later this month comes quickly to mind for Chamber CEO Verlynn Best: The Seattle City Council’s move to tax high-income earners and what it could mean for other communities throughout the state, including those in the Yakima Valley.
It would be a timely discussion: On Nov. 17, a lawsuit challenging the income tax will start in King County Superior Court. Both proponents and opponents see the case as a crucial opportunity to examine the measure’s legality.
In a phone interview, Best said she watches Seattle City Council’s policy decisions with trepidation because she believes the council influences statewide policies
That’s intentional. Best’s concern is shared in Vancouver. The Vancouver-SW Washington Business Journal writes,
A legal battle is brewing over Seattle’s launch of a 2.25 percent income tax on wealthy residents – and the results could impact us right here in Clark County.
Lawyers challenging the tax call it a clear attempt to change state law..
The undisputed evidence is that members of the City Council have been coordinating with longtime income tax advocates, and working behind closed doors for at least 18 months to enact the Ordinance for the express purpose of drawing a constitutional challenge. Under their strategy, that legal challenge would give a “sympathetic” Supreme Court the opportunity to overrule its prior decisions in Culliton, Jensen, and Huntley, which established that income is a class of property. This lawsuit is the culmination of a “local government” strategy intended to open the door to the “progressive” state-wide income tax Washington voters have rejected at least ten times.
In an op-ed in the Seattle Times, Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center reinforces the point.
One of the lawsuits is by the “Opportunity for All Coalition” represented by former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and former Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge. This lawsuit included as evidence public records I received from Seattle showing that the true motivation for the effort was to facilitate imposition of a statewide income tax.
In response to the picture painted by these public records, Seattle told the court, “The city will not waste the Court’s time rebutting this irrelevant record.”
While the city may find the record irrelevant, residents of potentially-affected communities around the state, like Vancouver and Yakima, do not.
The Yakima Herald-Republic interviewed income tax proponent John Burbank, who helped shape the Seattle law.
Burbank emphasized that the organization’s focus is maintaining income tax in Seattle, and it isn’t working to pass a similar measure statewide. But he did note that a legal ruling in proponents’ favor could allow other cities to adopt a similar measure. Residents of various cities have also approached Burbank’s organization to get traction on a local income tax.
“Whatever they do on the west side, it’s not going to stay there,” she said.