OLYMPIA, Wash. (CN) — Olympia, Wash. has gone to court against a citizens’ initiative that would establish an income tax for Olympia residents who earn more than $200,000 a year, calling the proposal unconstitutional.
Lead defendant Opportunity for Olympia, a political committee, sponsored the initiative, which would collect a 1.5 percent tax on annual household income above $200,000 for a public college tuition fund.
Opportunity for Olympia submitted enough signatures to place the initiative on the November ballot. The city sued on July 22 in Thurston County Court, calling the proposal invalid because taxing is beyond the scope of local initiative power.
“The local power of taxation, even when authorized for a city, is reserved in the city’s governing/legislative body, and not subject to direct legislation except as specifically authorized by the Legislature. The Legislature has not authorized direct legislation (initiative or referendum) for a city’s imposition of an income tax. Indeed, the Legislature has expressly forbidden cities from imposing a tax on net income.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
Defendants include Opportunity for Olympia representative Ray Guerra, campaign manager Danielle Westbrook, Thurston County and county auditor Mary Hall.
The Olympia City Council attempted to come up with an alternate tax proposal, but at a Tuesday meeting voted to take no action and let the court decide.
“It would be irresponsible to place this measure on the ballot knowing it would definitely fail in the courts,” Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones said at the meeting.
After the vote, Opportunity for Olympia said council members failed to do their job.
“City Council members are elected by the people to implement the will of the people. It doesn’t matter what their personal positions are on this initiative. As public officials they cannot override the decision of Olympia’s voters to put this initiative up for a vote; to do so is to undermine our democracy and to disrespect the rule of law,” the group said in a statement.
The city is represented by City Attorney Mark Barber and P. Stephen DiJulio with Foster Pepper in Seattle.
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