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Seattle commits to adopting income tax, or at least trying to

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant
KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant

Seattle officials have committed themselves to trying to adopt the city's first income tax. Monday, the City Council passed a resolution to start the process.

But the city faces legal uncertainty in this area. That's because the state Supreme Court once ruled an income tax unconstitutional, and no city or county has approved one ever since.

Seattle officials say they could use the revenue from the proposed tax on high-income earners to lower property taxes. They also say the state's existing tax system is unfair to lower income people.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant has long called for an income tax.

Sawant: "We are against more taxes on regular working people. We are talking about taxing the rich, who are not paying their fair share."

The City Council is working with the coalition Trump Proof Seattle on the proposal. The group wants the city to tax households with incomes over $250,000 a year at a rate of 1.5 percent.

The City Council expects someone to challenge the legality of an income tax in court. Proponents say they welcome that since the issue hasn’t been heard in court for decades.

One group against an income tax in Washington is the Washington Policy Center. The group calls it illegalbased on past Supreme Court rulings. Paul Guppy is vice president for research at the conservative think tank.

Guppy: "There is definitely a need for a discussion about tax reform. The thing is that the liberal leadership in Seattle, their solution to that is to just slap another tax onto the system by adding it on."

The resolution approved Monday doesn't lay out details of how the income tax would work, except that it would target high income earners.

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said they need answers to a lot of questions before they adopt the tax. She hopes an income tax will be approved by city lawmakers by mid-July.