July 22, 2019
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Political fights intensify over constitutionality of income tax in Washington



Supporters of a state income tax celebrated an appeals court ruling last week on the issue. The ruling, as expected, struck down a Seattle city ordinance that would tax income of those making more than $250,000 a year. What was unexpected, even stunning, was that the appeals court also struck down a 1984 state law that prohibits cities from levying an income tax, saying that law violated the state's constitutional requirement that laws only address one subject.

Supporters of an income tax were "elated" by the decision. Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat said that with this appeals court ruling, "suddenly the liberal dream of an income tax is tantalizingly real."

Last week Republican lawmakers in the Senate and House called for a new legal and legislative effort to reinstate that 35-year-old ban on income taxes after it was unexpectedly upended.

State Sen. Steve O'Ban, R-University Place, sent a letter to Attorney General Bob Ferguson, saying that as the state's top lawyer, it's his job to defend the 1984 law.

“Every client is entitled to a defense. The state is your client,” O’Ban wrote to Ferguson. “And a state law in place for over 35 years has just been found invalid on grounds rarely invoked by the court system. We expect you to represent the state's interest by defending the constitutionality of the law.”

Ferguson is unlikely to intervene, Crosscut reports, citing his office's decision in 2017 not to get involved in the case.

Meanwhile, O'Ban and Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, are calling on the Legislature to pass a standalone bill prohibiting state and local income taxes.

“To me, it’s kind of simple: Democrats' campaign arguments have been, ‘We don’t want an income tax, Republicans are just crying wolf,’ ” Stokesbary said. “If that’s true, they should join with us in passing this statute as a single bill next session.”

Rep. Noel Frame, D-Seattle, said this was more about trying to score political points than anything else.

“They seem more interested in engaging in a political stunt than in a thoughtful conversation about how to make the tax code better for middle- and low-income people,” Frame said Thursday.

Meanwhile, last week's appeals court decision seems to be sending the issue to the state Supreme Court, which could rule on a 1933 high court decision that found income to be property, and therefore subject to constitutional rules that all property be taxed uniformly.

For more on tax issues, contact Clay Hill, AWB government affairs director for tax and fiscal policy.

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Steer our students to the many paths for productive lives

By State Sen. Lisa Wellman and State Rep. Vandana Slatter

We know that today's jobs require education beyond high school. But our graduation rate is still under 80 percent, and only 40 percent of our high school students earn a credential or degree after high school by the time they are 26 years old.

Meanwhile, businesses can't find workers with the skills they need. This means that despite the state's strong economic growth, thousands of Washington students are being left behind every single year.

The situation is serious and getting more urgent. In the next few years, Washington employers are anticipating 740,000 job openings with jobs that require technical certification, apprenticeship or college degrees. We need to get students ready...

Career Connect Washington provides a fundamental new framework for connecting students to high demand, high potential jobs, and higher education, job training and actual employment. Through a regional approach of supporting localized networks focused on the needs of our diverse state, each area of our state will be able to help students learn about, explore and prepare for their careers...

Read the full op-ed in The Seattle Times