The measure under consideration would have given the state Legislature until 2020 to raise taxes on the rich or lower them on poorer households — or some combination thereof.
A coalition of liberal groups has decided against running a 2018 initiative that would have pushed Washington’s Legislature to alter the state’s tax code to make wealthy households pay the same share of their income as poorer households.
The group, People for a Balanced Tax Code, had filed drafts of an initiative and paid $75,000 to two polling firms. The measure under consideration would have given the Legislature until 2020 to raise taxes on the rich or lower them on poorer households — or some combination thereof.
But with a summer deadline approaching to gather signatures for an initiative, the effort has been called off.
Instead of a ballot measure, the group will launch a public discussion and education campaign, said Zach Silk, president of Civic Ventures, a political organization headed by Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.
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“One of the things that has been clear to us is just how misinformed public and community leaders are about how upside down the tax system is,” Silk said. He said details of the public discussion will be released later this year and that a significant amount of money would be spent on the effort.
It’s no great secret that Washington state has a regressive tax system, meaning people with modest incomes pay a comparatively high share of it in state and local taxes. The poorest fifth pay about 17 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the wealthiest 1 percent pay 2.4 percent, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that favors progressive taxes, such as income taxes.But voters have soundly rejected efforts to create a state income tax, most recently voting down a 2010 initiative that would have imposed an income tax on households earning $200,000 or more for individuals and $400,000 for married couples. Gov. Jay Inslee has said he does not favor a state income tax, but has proposed taxing capital-gains income on wealthy taxpayers.
Groups backing People for a Balanced Tax Code, including the home health-care worker union SEIU 775, have long yearned for an income tax aimed at making wealthy people pay higher taxes. But Silk said backers of the potential initiative were not wedded to any particular tax outcome, just to building the “political and public momentum” for the Legislature to fix a tax system that many believe is unfair and not serving the public well.
“We haven’t had this kind of concerted statewide conversation in a long time,” Silk said.