In 2010, Seattle voters like the idea of taxing the rich. Now that the city has a lot more rich people, would the idea be more or less popular?
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  • In 2010, Seattle voters liked the idea of taxing the rich. Now that this city has a lot more rich people, will the idea of taxing them be more or less popular?

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Last week, the Seattle City Council voted to ask its lawyers whether a special tax on local millionaires would even be legal.

Council President Tim Burgess thinks the answer is obvious: no. (Because state law bars income taxes.) Council Member Kshama Sawant thinks it's important to explore the question further.

This question has been kicking around for a long time. (Like, since 1933.) And no matter what the city's lawyers come up with, it's likely that any income tax approved by the Seattle City Council would end up at the Washington State Supreme Court—which could be a good thing, given the court's current makeup.

But while the city's lawyers start exploring the income tax question all over again, it's worth considering another question: Would Seattle voters support a tax on millionaires?

Remember, Initiative 1098, which would have brought Washington State billions of dollars annually by levying a tax on high-income earners, failed all across the state in 2010. It even failed here in King County, where some of the titans of local tech—including Steve Ballmer, Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos, and the Microsoft Corporation—gave big money to defeat the measure. One thing the tech titans were said to like about Washington State's lack of an income tax: It helps them when they're recruiting talent to the region.

Even so, in 2010, Seattle voters ignored the tech leaders and voted strongly for a high-earners income tax. That, however, was four years ago.

Since then, the tech companies—especially Bezos's Amazon—have continued to recruit huge numbers of people to come work in this income-tax-free city where, presumably, the lack of an income tax helps all these new workers afford the higher rents and rising housings costs that their presences are helping to create.

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Would Seattle's new tech migrants, many of them probably (and reasonably) hoping to become millionaires themselves one day, oppose a new move to tax Seattle's millionaires? If they did, would it make any difference to the overall Seattle sentiment that, at least in 2010, was in favor of taxing the rich?

We may be about to find out.