Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Seattle’s income tax on the wealthy is illegal, judge rules

The following article appeared in the Seattle Times on November 22nd

Seattle’s income tax on wealthy households failed its first legal test on Wednesday.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Seattle’s income tax on wealthy households failed its first legal test Wednesday, with a King County Superior Court ruling that the measure is illegal.

In a summary judgment, Judge John R. Ruhl agreed with multiple challengers that the city ordinance adopted in July is not authorized under state law.
Judge Ruhl, author of an honest ruling
Opponents of Seattle’s so-called “wealth tax” immediately hailed the ruling as proof that the city long has known the tax was legally flawed, but nonetheless pushed it into law.

“The city knowingly violated several laws in imposing this tax,” said Brian T. Hodges, a senior attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented several Seattle residents challenging the law. “This ruling is probably the worst scenario for the city and the best scenario for the opponents of the income tax.”

While Wednesday’s decision is “disappointing,” the city intends to appeal it directly to the State Supreme Court, where officials always expected the question to be decided, a spokeswoman for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said in an email.

In a joint statement, Holmes and Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess said their goal is to eliminate the state’s over-reliance on regressive sales taxes and ensure the wealthy pay their fair share. 
Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess, the disappointed leftist
Washington’s tax system has been called the most regressive in the country, meaning that low-income people pay a much higher percentage of their earnings than wealthier residents.

Passed by a unanimous City Council vote in July and subsequently signed into law by former Mayor Ed Murray, the Seattle measure would impose a 2.25 percent tax on total income above $250,000 for individuals and above $500,000 for married couples filing together. The city estimates it would raise about $140 million a year.

Proponents say that money could be used to lower property taxes, help the homeless and expand provide affordable housing.

The tax was immediately challenged by private citizens and organizations, including the Olympia-based free-market think tank The Freedom Foundation.

Wednesday’s ruling undercut most of the city’s legal arguments for the tax, pointing out that state law explicitly prohibits taxes on net income.

The city had argued that its tax would apply to “total income” instead of net. The city also described it as an excise tax, imposed on those who live in Seattle in the same way excise taxes are imposed on companies that do business in the city.

The judge disagreed.

“ … the City’s tax, which is labeled ‘Income Tax,’ is exactly that,” he wrote. “It cannot be restyled as an ‘excise tax’ on the … ‘privileges’ of receiving revenue in Seattle or choosing to live in Seattle.”

The judge did not rule on whether the tax violates a provision in the state constitution requiring all property taxes be imposed uniformly.

The opponents argue that income is property, so it’s not legal to single out the wealthy for taxation, Hodges explained.

“In order to uphold its income tax, the city would have to convince a court that individual income is not protected by the constitution,” he said.

At the Supreme Court, Seattle officials hope to attack the long-standing interpretation that income taxes are property taxes, opening the door to what proponents see as a fairer tax system statewide.

“In order to build a more just and equitable society for all, we need a serious overhaul of our state’s tax structure,” Holmes and Burgess said in their statement.

Ed. “In order to build a more just and equitable society for all, we need a serious overhaul of our state’s tax structure,” mewed Seattle’s leftist Mayor, Tim Burgess. Beware liberals who claim to understand the meaning of both fair and equitable. 

Federalist contributor David Dewhirst writes that Seattle’s far left city council had, “enacted a tax, not to meet any specific fiscal need, but to, admittedly, redistribute wealth.” “This is perhaps the country’s first tax solely designed to remediate ‘income inequality,’” continues Dewhirst.

Of course, council members KNEW the tax to be illegal, given that it was contrary both to Washington State law and to the State Constitution. But that doesn’t much matter. As the left have discovered time and again, it takes only an agenda-driven judge or two to manufacture the right sort of legislation.  So what if it doesn’t happen to be legal!

But Superior Court Judge John Ruhl has refused to play. As a result, Mayor Burgess must continue the quest for a robed activist willing to ignore both the law and the Constitution.


  1. <<"Patriots are not revolutionaries trying to overthrow the government of the United States. Patriots are Counter-Revolutionaries trying to prevent the government from overthrowing the Constitution.">>

    I do not count myself a conservative, but I applaud your sentiment. I just wish that conservatives believed it or acted that way.

    I represent lead plaintiff Mike Kunath in the income tax lawsuit, and I hope that people do not make the mistake of thinking of it in liberal or conservative terms. I am a lifelong progressive and proud of it. But I hold the rule of law paramount. The case was about the rule of law and nothing else. Anyone who says otherwise is dishonest.

    <<“In order to build a more just and equitable society for all, we need a serious overhaul of our state’s tax structure,” mewed Seattle’s leftist Mayor, Tim Burgess. Beware liberals who claim to understand the meaning of both fair and equitable.>>

    I have news for you. Washington's tax system is horribly broken. We have a 19th century tax system in the 21st century. IN addition to being unfairly regressive, it also is inefficient and unproductive. I know some conservatives are delighted with it because their state and local taxes are low, but that is not conservatism. It is selfishness.


    If Dewhirst read the ordinance, he would see that the funds raised were directed at specific programs and to meet their specific fiscal needs. His statement to the contrary is dishonest. He may want to call it redistributing wealth, but the idea was to make taxes less regressive. Yes, that means the wealthy pay more, and yes that indirectly redistributes wealth, but so does the pernicious tax plan circulating in Congress now. Of course, it redistributes wealth the to the already wealthy, so that is OK.


    Well said and dead accurate.


    Sir, if you really think that this a left/right issue, if you think that activist judges are liberal only, and if you thing that conservative judges do not have agendas, then you are intellectually bankrupt. I could speak for weeks without a break about outrageous, deliberate violations of the law and constitution. Of course, I could do the same about liberal judges. If you want to go around saying that Donald Trump is a Godsend and pretend like conservatives are always right or somehow better than liberals, then go ahead and preach to your little choir and bask in those echoes. But you will not be relevant, and you will have no place at the table when principled and thoughtful people sit down to actually devise solutions to our problems.

    As a progressive, I saw what "my" side did, and I was offended, so I stepped in to prevent it. It did not matter that it was "my" side; what mattered was that it was wrong. I caught a lot of grief from people who said that I was traitor or sold out to the other side, but I did not care. The world needs more people who live by their own rules and obey their principles even when it means paying a price.

    In closing, let me borrow a few words from John Lennon

    You may say I'm a dreamer
    But I'm not the only one
    I hope some day you'll join us
    And the world will be as one

    1. @Matthew Davis,

      I greatly appreciate your comment. I certainly agree that the tax "system" manufactured in Washington DC is "horribly broken." Do you agree with the elimination of the State and Local tax deductions included in the current tax bill? Some of the people you spoke of would no longer be favored with low State/Local taxes. And as they would be paying a great deal more in income taxes, other taxes might be repealed.(We shouldn't hold our breath.)

      Are taxes necessarily a left-right issue? No. But somehow it often works out that way, doesn't it? The left will go on about the "rich" paying their "fair share," though the Schumer's and Pelosi's of the world never bother to define what that fair share happens to be! One thing is almost always certain--the Cities with the largest tax burden are run by Democrats/liberals. And as taxpayers leave in order to escape oppressive taxes, those who remain are told they must begin paying more in existing taxes or altogether new taxes--Soda taxes, for example, in order to make up the endless, downward spiral.

      Is Trump a Godsend? Well just imagine another 4-8 years of Barack Hussein, an America-hating, Marxist Muslim who did everything in his power (both legal and illegal) to destroy the United States and damage the American people. The new leftist thief would be Hillary Clinton, but the effects would be the same.

      So YES, Donald Trump is indeed in many ways a Godsend. Of course we'll hear little from the national media about the positive effects of his administration on the nation. But good things will happen and people will know.

      Again, thank you for your comment. I assume Judge Ruhl's decision will be appealed. Like you, I do hope the law and the State Constitution will be obeyed.

      Doug Book, Ed.