Spokane voters to consider ban on a local income tax.

Spokane voters will have a chance this November to ban preemptively a municipal income tax. This belt-and-suspenders prohibition, writes Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center, can be seen as a response to the Seattle experience.

In 2017, the Seattle City Council tried unsuccessfully to circumvent state law by imposing an illegal local income tax. Two years later, voters in Spokane will have the opportunity to take the exact opposite approach by amending the city’s charter to prohibit any possibility of a local income tax. Spokane Initiative No. 2019-2 (Charter Amendment Prohibiting a City of Spokane Income Tax) has qualified for the November ballot. If successful, this effort will prohibit Spokane from being able to impose an income tax without a vote of the people regardless of any changes to the state law concerning a local income tax. 

The charter amendment is one of two proposed and qualified by Better Spokane, a business group organized in 2016. The Spokesman-Review reported in April,

During their Monday meeting, Spokane City Council will hear two initiatives submitted by Better Spokane, a fiscally conservative group that supports business-friendly political candidates.

Better Spokane Director Michael Cathcart, who submitted the two initiatives and will gather signatures once they go through the process, argued that a law banning local income tax could act as an insurance policy in case a future state Supreme Court allows a tax.

He also said collective bargaining between the city and unions should be public because personnel is one of the city’s biggest expenses and taxpayers should be able to see the process.

Better Spokane announced in a press release that both measures qualified.

On Monday, June 10th, Better Spokane’s Smart Reform Committee submitted to the City of Spokane 3,343 and 3,342 signatures respectively for Proposition 1 (2019-1) and Proposition 2 (2019-2).

“We wanted to present voters with ideas that would both improve how local government operates as well as ensure future regional competitiveness,” says Michael Senske, Chair of Better Spokane’s Board of Directors. “We had several ideas we considered, but ultimately these two seemed most timely given the recent adoption of open bargaining reforms in Spokane County and Seattle’s recent decision to adopt a local income tax, which is still working its way through the courts,” he added.

The City Council on Monday, June 24th voted to send the submitted petitions to the Spokane County Auditor’s Election Department to be verified. As expected, Spokane County confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that more than enough valid signatures were submitted, guaranteeing a spot on November’s ballot for both measures…

A Yes vote on Proposition 2 protects taxpayers and ensures future regional competitiveness by prohibiting the City from following Seattle’s lead and going it alone in adopting a city income tax or even a city business and occupation tax.