Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
A pay-per-mile tax is very likely in the future of Washington state car and truck owners.
It seems a reasonable way to ensure the state continues to collect enough tax revenue to maintain the state highway and transportation system. Currently, the roads are funded by a 49.5 cents per gallon gasoline tax, third highest in the nation. Revenue has been declining, and is expected to plummet further, as more people drive more fuel-efficient cars, hybrids or all-electric vehicles.
Questions, however, remain, including what is the best and fairest way to implement the per-mile tax.
A variety of proposals have been made and studied using pilot projects. The state Transportation Commission will soon start reviewing the results and is expected to vote in December on a recommendation to submit to the Legislature.
An issue that must also be considered is how quickly the current gasoline tax can be phased out or reduced. This is critical to gaining public support for the transition.
Sen. Rebecca Saldana, vice chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers that a pay-per-mile system would have to be phased in over 10 to 25 years because the state has sold bonds for transportation projects based on revenue from the gas tax. Those bonds would have to paid off before the state replaced the gas tax completely with a pay-per-mile system, she said.
The phase-in could involve, for example, subjecting only newer cars or the highest-mileage vehicles to the pay-per-mile tax. Those motorists would receive a credit on gas taxes they would pay, McClatchy reported.
State lawmakers will have a lot to think about once the recommendation hits their desks — which will certainly be followed by a rash of public comments. People are generally very skeptical when one tax is proposed to replace another over time.
Beyond all this, we believe it is important to find a way to impose a reasonable tax on visitors to Washington state when they use our roads.
Again, none of this will be resolved quickly. Yet, it must be resolved.
The ultimate goal must be to impose a tax system that fully funds the state transportation system and does so in an equitable way. A miles tax must be phased in so that that it eventually eliminates the state’s high gasoline tax.
Local income taxes skirt state constitution
Washington state is one of the few states that does not have an income tax. And the state’s voters have made clear — 10 times — they don’t want an income tax.
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That, however, has not stopped the city of Seattle from imposing an income tax on its wealthy residents in an effort to expand its revenues.
On Monday, the Washington state Court of Appeals struck down Seattle’s 2.25 percent income tax for individuals making at least $250,000 and $500,000 or more for married couples that it adopted in 2017.
But the court’s ruling is as mushy as a week-old banana.
A King County Superior Court judge earlier killed Seattle’s income tax before it was collected. The judge ruled the tax violated the state Legislature’s 1984 ban on Washington cities taxing net income.
The Appeals Court found that the Legislature ban is void because it was included in a piece of legislation with multiple subjects, which is not allowable. Essentially, the law is not the law because of technicality.
Given that, the court said Seattle could impose its tax except that — and here is where it gets squishy — the tax itself is unconstitutional because it is not applied equally to all. The court said that income is property and property must be taxed uniformly. Is essence, a tax only on the wealthy doesn’t cut the mustard.
This matters because it opens the door for cities across the state to impose local income taxes, which would seem to contradict the constitution’s ban on an income tax.
This case is undoubtedly heading to the state Supreme Court.
And there we expect (OK, hope for) a clear resolution.
The state constitution is clear that the state can’t impose an income tax. Implied in that is that such a tax can’t be enacted within the state by local governments, either counties or cities. The Legislature imposed the ban in 1984 to ensure there is no misunderstanding on the legality of an income tax at any level.
While the Court of Appeals might well be correct that the 1984 law was imposed correctly, it is nevertheless clear that the Legislature intended to ban city-imposed income tax.
In addition, the voters of Washington have voted 10 times since 1960 not to allow an income tax. Six of those votes were specifically focused on the state constitution.
Seattle’s city government is out of step on this issue.
If the state Supreme Court doesn’t ultimately put an end to this effort to let cities (and, perhaps, counties) impose income taxes, the Legislature needs to fix the flaws in its 1984 effort.