Its on.
It's on. HG

The first legal battle on Seattle’s progressive income tax is about to come to a head. Today in King County Superior Court, the city will defend the first income tax to pass in Washington State in over eighty years.

It’s about time. Last week Jeff Bezos made $1.1 billion selling stock and paid nothing in state or local taxes. You, however, have to pay more than 10% in sales tax when you buy a cup of coffee. Every year or two it’s reported that Washington has the most regressive tax system in the nation. It’s embarrassing to repeatedly win that prize.

This year Seattle stepped up, and on July 10th the city council unanimously passed a 2.25% tax on income above $250,000. Since then our opponents have been shouting “illegal, unconstitutional, illegal!” like millionaire Chicken Littles. They don’t want to debate the merits of the tax or talk about how Washington’s tax system favors the very wealthy and punishes the rest of us. They don’t want to talk about the housing crisis, or homelessness, or how more than half of Seattle tax filers are making less than $50,000 in our prosperous city.

A dubious army has amassed to block the forward march of tax justice. First came our ‘grassroots’ opponent, an investment advisor who, according to his complaint, “regularly reported more than $250,000 on line 22 of his IRS Form 1040, and expects to continue to do so.”

He was quickly followed by more organized forces, including big guns like the Freedom Foundation. This anti-union, climate change-denying, libertarian think-tank has spent the last twenty-five years fighting for the freedom of the very wealthy to amass still more wealth.

We activists aren’t used to thinking of our government as the underdog, but you couldn’t ask for a better Goliath to make the City of Seattle look like a scrappy but determined David.

Sometime before the end of the year, Judge Ruhl will pass his judgment on Seattle’s progressive income tax. As in any good underdog story, we may well lose this first round because lower courts are often bound by Supreme Court precedent. It doesn’t mean we won’t win in the long run. No matter what the ruling, it will be appealed. This battle is headed for the Washington State Supreme Court.

We believe the Supreme Court will find our tax constitutional next year. The notion that income is property, which formed the basis of two 1930s rulings overturning a popular statewide progressive income tax, is antiquated, and we believe the opposition’s other arguments won’t hold water either.

The Trump-Proof Seattle Coalition that came together in the early days of this year did not choose this fight because we thought it would be easy. Hundreds of volunteers and organizers did not pour our time and energy into this cause because we thought victory would come quickly. We saw how Washington’s upside-down tax system undermines our communities’ resilience in the face of Trump’s attacks on vulnerable people. We saw the need for systemic change, and the opportunity.

The ultra-wealthy and the forces they have assembled may look formidable, but history is not on their side. They are profiting from a system that is stacked against the rest of us, and now we’re getting organized. They can try to write Seattle’s income tax off as unconstitutional, they can avoid discussing its basic justice. But when our case reaches the State Supreme Court, they will see that the future isn’t theirs.

Katie Wilson is General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union.