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A Seattle income tax could mean free community college

An income tax may be proposed in Seattle as soon as next week. In preparation, the City Council was briefed by economists Wednesday about the financial implications.

Seattle's lawmakers have not released details on their income tax proposal, but have suggested it will be a flat 1.5 percent tax on individuals who make $250,000 or more a year (or couples earning $500,000 or more).

John Burbank of the Economic Opportunity Institute says that would impact 2.2 percent of Seattle’s population. He says the revenue raised in just the first year of the proposed tax would be significant for the city. He gave his presentation to a city finance committee.

Burbank: "We could build and preserve affordable housing, we could fund tiny house villages, we could do retrofits for Seattle schools, that's one thing we could do."

Burbank says the income tax would bring in $200 million in revenue a year, which is more than enough to cover the projects he listed. He says the city could also make community college free, which he estimates would cost $16 million for a year.

It would be the first income tax in Washington, a state that has a law against taxing net income.

Opponents of an income tax say because of that state law, the proposal is illegal. Paul Guppy with the Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank, says it would also hurt the local economy.

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "The city could also make community college free.", "style": "push"}]]  Guppy: "Incrementally adding a personal income tax in Seattle, even if it starts on high wealth individuals, I think it would discourage investors and high wealth people from coming to Seattle and starting companies that are so good for us."

If the measure passes, city council members say they expect a court fight over the income tax.