One Washington state political coalition is taking the divisive “not my president” slogan far too literally. In Seattle, the Transit Riders Union and the Economic Opportunity Institute are launching a campaign to, as they dub the effort, “Trump Proof Seattle,” by creating a city income tax on households making more than $250,000 per year. The coalition estimates the new tax would cost Seattleites over $100 million a year and would shield the city if, due to city refusals to implement federal policy, Trump decides to withdraw funding from Seattle.
In their campaign summary, Trump Proof Seattle outlines their plan to use the tax as a test case to challenge court precedents that defined income as a type of property. Washington’s State Constitution bans progressive property taxes. “The expectation,” writes the coalition, “is that today’s progressive court will rule in our favor.” Washington voters have rejected referenda to implement a state income tax nine times, but the group’s anti-Trump rhetoric is intended to mitigate this traditional opposition to income taxes.
Conservatives in Washington fear that if Seattle is successful, they will use this local “Trump Proof” income tax as a gateway to the creation of a statewide income tax. A similar phenomenon occurred after Seattle decided to raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour; just one year later, Initiative 1433 passed in Washington. This initiative increased the state minimum wage from $9.47/hour to $13.50/hour by 2020. The initiative garnered a large part of its support from King County (the County in which Seattle is located), while not a single county on the more rural, eastern side of the state voted to approve the initiative.
The looming possibility of a statewide income tax should encourage Washington legislators to approve legislation that would preempt the “Trump Proof Seattle” movement. State preemption can prevent local lawmakers from creating a patchwork of legislation that drives businesses from the state. Fortunately, Washington lawmakers have already begun fighting back against unpopular and unabashedly progressive state income taxes. In February, Rep. Matt Manweller introduced House Joint Resolution 4207 (SJR 8204/HJR4207), a bill that would allow voters to decide whether to amend the constitution to specifically ban state and local income taxes within the state.
By persuading the State Supreme Court to change the definition of the word “property,” a few judges could allow the Seattle legislature to bypass the will of the people. As John Mercier writes in the Spokesman-Review, “Lawmakers in our state should send SJR 8204/HJR 4207 to the voters so the people can make our state’s ban on an income tax crystal clear and guard it from being overturned by a surprise court ruling that ignores well-established legal precedents.”
The “Trump Proof Seattle” hopes to overturn a legal precedent that bans income taxes in Washington and keeps the state competitive. In Washington, this proposition is currently unwanted, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.