Judge Nixes Seattle’s Experimental Income Tax On High Earners

February 8, 2015 - Houston, TX, USA. A Monopoly car is on the income tax space. (Photo: Shutterstocks/Casey Martin)February 8, 2015 - Houston, TX, USA. A Monopoly car is on the income tax space. (Photo: By Casey Martin

A King County Superior Court judge struck down Seattle’s re-distributive income tax on top earners Wednesday, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Freedom Foundation.

The tax violated Washington state law because the state legislature had not yet authorized it, Judge John R. Ruhl said, according to a Freedom Foundation press release.

“Regardless of what label one may choose in classifying the city’s tax, the requirement remains that the Legislature must specifically authorize the tax,” Ruhl said in his decision. “The city has not identified any specific statutory authorization for its tax.”

The Seattle city council passed the measure unanimously in July, creating a new 2.25 percent tax rate on those earning over $250,000 and married couples making over $500,000.

“In our system of government, the Legislature makes laws and the courts interpret them,” said Freedom Foundation Chief Counsel David Dewhirst. “If you want to change the existing tax laws, you can ask your legislator to introduce a bill, or you can sponsor a ballot initiative.”

Income tax laws have historically been unpopular with the electorate, and this recent effort represents an attempt to ask the judiciary to make law, instead of interpret it, Dewhirst said.

“Their problem is, they’ve tried that and it never works because the voters have consistently rejected income taxes of all kinds. So they’re trying a shortcut by asking the courts to legislate from the bench,” Dewhirst concluded.

City lawyers are expected to appeal the ruling and continue fighting the decision in court.

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