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In growing statewide movement, more cities ban local income tax

In growing statewide movement, more cities ban local income tax

The list of Washington cities voting to ban a local income tax is growing, with Kennewick and Moses Lake the latest municipalities to approve resolutions against it. While detractors continue to assert that the efforts are a waste of time, proponents argue they’re preventative measures in response to a 2019 Washington State Court of Appeals decision that overturned a 1984 state law prohibiting local income taxes. 

In the two years since that decision, the cities of Union Gap, Spokane, Spokane Valley, Yakima, Battle Ground, and Granger have all either passed resolutions prohibiting an income tax or voted to send such a proposal to voters.

“A few years ago, this would have seemed like a strange conversation to have,” Washington Policy Center Government Reform Director Jason Mercier told the Kennewick City Council at its Sept. 7 meeting. “But that all changed in 2017 when the city of Seattle wanted to test the legal waters.”

While there is virtually no chance in any of these cities of a local income tax being approved, let alone proposed in the first place, advocates say the resolutions provide long-term certainty while an ongoing lawsuit against the state’s capital gains income tax continues. Kennewick city staff also told the council that the 2019 decision concerned Seattle, a first-class charter city, but a potential future legal ruling could clarify that it also applies to code cities like Kennewick.

The Kennewick City Council resolution approved Sept. 7 states that “a local income tax would be in direct conflict with the high value the City places on promoting economic development through the attraction and expansion of financially healthy, family-wage paying employers. Small businesses are the backbone of our local, regional, state, and national economy and it is imperative that the City not put unnecessary hurdles in the way of their success.”

Councilmember John Trumbo told colleagues that the resolution is about “informing the citizens of Kennewick that this is a possibility that could happen and this council…has no intention of bringing forward an income tax. (We) make sure that our citizens are informed and know where we stand.”

Mayor Don Britain said that while “we don’t have a Seattle-type council…it doesn’t mean two years from now, four years from now, someone might come and act to change that and push something like that. It is a collective statement to the community on where the council stands.”

Councilmember Charles Torelli was the lone “no” vote on the resolution, telling colleagues that “we spent staff time, staff energy, resources that we can never recover to do something that didn’t need to be done when there’s so many other things out there that do need attention. We are working for approval for a resolution that addresses a nonexistent issue right now with a nonbinding resolution.”

The Moses Lake City Council approved its local income tax ban at its Aug. 24 meeting.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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