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'Tax me': Public hearing shows strong support for proposed income tax

People pack city hall for a hearing on a proposed income tax
KUOW Photo/Kate Walters
People pack Seattle City Hall for a hearing on a proposed income tax.

Supporters of a proposed high-earners income tax packed Seattle city hall Wednesday night for a public hearing.

“Tax the Rich” was the message that was emblazoned on signs and sprinkled through testimony.

Ned Friend, an engineer at a local tech firm, said he’d be one of those taxed if the proposed bill is adopted.

And he echoed the message of other supporters, saying yes, tax me.

"I'm looking forward to the day when I can pay my fair share to keep Seattle wonderful... We need better services in Seattle, services that even the wealthy can't buy in stores. Only tax justice can fund them," Friend said

And he wasn’t alone.

Guillaume Zurbach is a software engineer from France living in Seattle. He said he doesn't qualify to be taxed under this measure, but that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm.

"Please tax me. Tax me so I can contribute to build a better tomorrow for all Seattleites. Tax me so we can just stop pretending to be a progressive city and actually become an inspiration for Washington state and the rest of the country."

Many supporters were advocates for the homeless and members of the homeless community. They urged the council to use new revenue raised from the tax (estimated to be $125 million in the first year) to ease the burden of regressive taxes, boost affordable housing and end homelessness.

The draft bill, unveiled this week, calls for a 2 percent tax on annual income above $250,000 for individuals and above $500,000 for couples who file joint taxes.

It states that revenue could be used for:

(1) lowering the property tax burden and the impact of other regressive taxes; (2) replacing federal funding potentially lost through President Trump’s budget cuts; (3) providing public services, including housing, education, and transit; (4) creating green jobs and meeting carbon reduction goals; and (5) administering and implementing the tax.

A handful of people spoke against the measure. John Peeples said the legislation was unbecoming of the council.

"I respectfully ask that the council permanently drop the subject. Washington state judicial precedent has firmly established that such an income tax is unconstitutional," Peeples said.

Officials say if the measure passes through council it will likely face a legal challenge.

Mayor Ed Murray, who supports the tax, said he’s hoping the matter goes to court.

"This question has been debated politically since the 1930s, and I think it's time to get it in a court and solve this issue one way or the other," Murray said.

Opponents of the tax have also argued it could stifle business and recruitment in the city. Engineer Ned Friend said he rejects that point.

"What really makes an unfavorable business climate is tents lining our log-jammed highways, threats to our immigrant employees, and under-funded schools for our children,” he said.

The proposed bill has yet to be introduced into city council. Councilmember Lisa Herbold said she expects it to be introduced next week.

The City Council has adopted a resolution signaling their intent to pass a high-earner income tax by July 10.

Year started with KUOW: 2015