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Mayor Murray floats income tax on Seattle's big earners

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Mayor Ed Murray says he'll propose an income tax on Seattle's highest earners.

That puts him in company with at least one of his challengers for re-election.

Former Mayor Mike McGinn announced his candidacy this week with a mention that he'd propose a city-wide income tax if elected.

Another challenger who announced this week, Cary Moon, said Thursday evening at a candidates forum that she doesn’t support an income tax. Instead, she said in a statement that she supports a capital gains tax, along with a tax on luxury real estate and other taxes aimed at real estate speculation to slow prices. 

Murray revealed the tax plan Thursday afternoon at a taping of the Seattle Channel's Ask the Mayor series.

The mayor was light on specifics. He talked about the regressive nature of a sales tax he wants to introduce next year to fund services for homeless people. Then he said he’ll introduce an income tax for high earners in the city.

He didn't specify what constitutes a high earner, and he didn't say what rate he'd propose.

If the City Council approved an income tax, it could face a legal challenge.

Income taxes are a political hot potato in Washington state. In the 1930s, the state Supreme Court struck down an income tax. And in the 1980s, the state Legislature barred cities or counties from imposing an income tax.

Last fall, Olympia voters rejected an income tax to pay for college tuition.

So what motivated the timing of Murray’s proposal?

One thing, it puts him on the side of activists who last month proposed such a plan.

And Murray has faced criticism over two recent tax proposals: first, an increase in the property tax to pay for services for homeless people, second the sales tax plan that replaced it.

The announcement of this plan also suggests the mayor is ready to fully engage with his work after two weeks of talking about a lawsuit that alleges he raped a teen boy in the mid-1980s.