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Capitol Dispatch: Senate Democrats argue for income tax

Capitol Dispatch: Senate Democrats argue for income tax


The most provocative and potentially lucrative idea for governemnt coming from Olympia these days is taxing the wealthy.

Even though Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire doesn’t support an income tax, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, continues to present arguments for taxing high incomes.

An economist by training, Brown says the state’s reliance on sales taxes is unfair to low- and middle-income residents. Last week, she drew inspiration from President Barack Obama, whom she called a “true leader” with a “plan to reform our country’s tax code so that the wealthiest families among us pay their fair share in taxes.”

Another Senate Democrat, Adam Kline of Seattle, wrote there was “no good reason” for Washington to not have a state income tax. So why doesn’t it? “We just have an irrational and idiosyncratic opposition to it,” he stated.

A Senate Democrat who has actually introduced a bill calling for an income tax, Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle, stressed last week that she wants to tax only some of the rich’s money.

She proposes a 1 percent tax on the portion of an individual’s income that exceeds $500,000, or $1 million for a married couple. A person making $550,000 a year would pay tax on $50,000, for example. That would, according to Kohl-Welles, “equate to only $500 a year.”

Brown says she has $250,000 in mind as the threshold for triggering a tax. Kline would start at $100,000.

For the record, Kohl-Welles isn’t the only Senate Democrat with a bill calling for an income tax. Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma, introduced a measure at the start of the session calling for a graduated tax on all incomes, along with lowering sales and property taxes. The bill hasn’t received a hearing, and Franklin says a “fear of taxation” is causing people to rule out “fiscal reform.”

Just a simple tax-the-rich plan reaching voters this year seems a long shot. Vocal support has been mostly confined to Puget Sound lawmakers and Brown, who has had a long-standing interest in tax reform.

The subject, though, has the allure of being easy to understand and new. Voters haven’t voted on a state income tax since 1973, when 77 percent voted no.

The topic gives Republicans something to tee off on while waiting for majority Democrats to work out their intra-caucus differences on the budget before the session ends two weeks from today.

Kalama Rep. Ed Orcutt, the lead Republican on the House Finance Committee, said last week that taxing the rich would deprive the economy of private investment. Also, that while taxing incomes above $500,000 would raise some $112 million a year, that’s a small percentage of the state’s $9 billion deficit, Orcutt said.

“How long before it creeps down to $50,000, or they bring it down to $20,000?” Orcutt asked. “How long before it goes from 1 percent to 2 percent?”

As for the state’s regressive tax system, Orcutt notes that Democrats made it more regressive in recent years by raising cigarette and liquor taxes.

Foul called: A House debate last week on a bill prohibiting sex discrimination in community sports programs included earthy language and Rep. Jaime Herrera, R-Ridgefield, taking offense, though not at the earthy language.

Senate Bill 5967 will require cities, school districts and private leagues to adopt polices assuring that their community athletic programs don’t treat girls as second-class athletes.

Herrera said she played youth and school sports and didn’t see a reason for the law. Other state and federal laws already assure girls have equal opportunities, she said.

Bothell Democrat Mark Ericks responded that he had witnessed discrimination during many years of coaching girls softball. “The girls get the crappy fields. The boys do not. That’s a reality. Anybody who says it’s not has not been out in the field. Girls get the crappy, I’m sorry, the poor practice times. Anybody who says different doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” he said.

Ericks wasn’t gaveled down for his mild vulgarity, but Herrera objected to his point.

“I do take a little bit offense hearing from the other side of the aisle that anyone who has an opposing viewpoint doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” she said.

The House approved the bill 67-31. Minor differences between it and the version passed by the Senate must be worked out before the measure goes to the governor.

Don Jenkins can be reached at (360) 501-2713 or


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