Think tank that helped create Seattle’s progressive income tax wants to defend it

The Economic Opportunity Institute was paid $50,000 by the city of Seattle for consultant work on its progressive income tax. The think tank now wants to help defend the ordinance in court in the hopes of overturning a 1984 state law prohibiting local income taxes. The request is opposed by the plaintiffs suing Seattle. Photo: VictorGrigas

A Seattle think tank that was paid $50,000 by the city for consultant work on its progressive income tax now wants to intervene in the legal challenge in hopes of overturning a state law prohibiting the tax. Plaintiffs in the case are calling on the courts to deny the request, while tax policy experts say it merely exposes the city’s ordinance as a political tool to get the tax legalized through judicial fiat.

In the September 6 motion in King County Superior Court, the Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI) claimed it had a “critical role to play in defending the Ordinance”: protecting advocacy work it has done in other cities to enact local income taxes.

While the brief didn’t reveal the legal argument Seattle intends to use, it argues that the state law prohibiting a local income tax is unconstitutional.

“The City has not thus far made a counterclaim that RCW 36.65.030 is unconstitutional nor provided notice to the Attorney General of its intent to do so,” the motion states, arguing that the city “does not adequately represent EOI’s interests.”

Although it doesn’t offer a specific reason the 1984 law is unconstitutional, a political committee behind Olympia’s Measure 1 last year had previously made the claim that the state law violated the state’s single-subject rule. However, that argument was struck down by the State Court of Appeals.

“Accordingly, the entire premise of Appellants’ argument is fundamentally flawed and the trial court properly ruled that Chapter 91, Laws of 1984 is constitutional,” the court decision states.

The September 6 motion was filed on behalf of EOI by Smith & Lowney, PLLC, a Seattle-based law firm to which EOI subcontracted its legal research for Seattle’s progressive income tax as part of the $50,000 consultant work.

EOI’s brief touts its activism for a statewide progressive income tax, citing its involvement in the 2010 Initiative 1098 campaign, the Olympia Measure 1 campaign last year – also represented by attorneys from Smith & Lowney – in addition to its membership in the Trump Proof Seattle coalition, which initially proposed a tax on “unearned incomes.”

“EOIs staff, leaders, and activists, along with numerous other members of Trump Proof Seattle coalition testified at every public comment opportunity concerning the Ordinance and organized town halls in each City Council district to educate and advocate for a Seattle income tax to meet local needs and address Seattle’s regressive tax structure,” the motion states. “In addition to having many leaders in Seattle who have advocated for Seattle’s income tax ordinance, EOI has leaders and activists in code cities that desire to enact local income tax ordinances. Elected officials and staff in these code cities believe that their ability to enact an income tax depends upon the success of Seattle’s income tax.”

However, if EOI has a problem with state law, it needs to take it up with the state itself, not those suing Seattle. That’s according to Matthew Davis, the attorney representing the consolidated lawsuits against Seattle’s progressive income tax.

He told Lens that the plaintiffs are unanimously opposed to EOI’s involvement in the case and have filed a motion for summary judgment dismissing their request.

“They (EOI) have a real interest in the ordinance because they lobbied for it and were so involved in its creation, it’d be a real blow to them if it were struck down,” he said. “They’ve got an ax to grind. They’re just trying to defend their work. I’m hopeful that the court will say no.

“In their motion, they try to go on and on about what a critical role they played, but they were a lobbyist,” he added. “That’s not really the kind of people we want intervening in the case. If they have a complaint they need to sue the state” in a “separate and independent claim which is not connected to this at all.”

EOI’s motion only shows that “this fight has little to do with Seattle and everything with trying to bring an income tax statewide,” Jason Mercier wrote in a recent blog post. He is the director of government reform at the Washington Policy Center.

“Perhaps EOI could have strengthened its argument to the court for why it should be party to the lawsuit by also mentioning it received a $49,500 contract from Seattle to develop the income tax proposal,” he wrote further.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe lens could introduce us to the people behind the Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI) and their donors. Going to the wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_Opportunity_Institute we can see who was managing the EOI because they provide a link to the 2014 IRS Form 990, but Schedule B (the donors) wasn’t published. As a news organization lens could make a request to get the current Form 999 plus Schedule B so we could see who is really behind the WA income tax effort. See https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/exempt-organizations-select-check and https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/exempt-organizations-public-disclosure-obtaining-copies-of-documents-from-irs

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