Freedom Foundation

Olympia Income Tax

Olympia has become the test tube in which Leftist social engineers are conducting their latest experiment.

The union-backed “Economic Opportunity Institute” of Seattle was tasked with finding a test case for a statewide income tax and, on July 8, paid canvassers turned in enough signatures to place a city income tax initiative on Olympia’s November ballot if approved by the council.

The Freedom Foundation has fought on behalf of taxpayers for 25 years, and this scheme is no exception. Not surprisingly, government unions play a key role in this plan to plunder a handful of Olympia residents to fund public higher education institutions.

Last month, Freedom Foundation policy fellow Amber Gunn authored an opinion editorial for The Olympian newspaper expressing concerns. The Freedom Foundation is working to educate people about the injustice of unconstitutional selective income harvesting.

Among the many problems with the proposal are these three:

First, this policy is unfair and immoral.

In its simplest terms, the measure requires the city to send police to take money from some residents and give it to others.

If the designated taxpayers acquired their wealth through unjust methods, say by fraud or theft, then by all means let the force of law be brought to bear. But that’s not what is happening here. Instead, those who authored and signed the petition simply believe that those who have more than they do deserve to be punished by having a portion of their wealth confiscated and redistributed to others.

As with most utopian schemes crafted by those who believe government can control human motives and action, this proposal will have negative impacts.

Will targeted taxation motivate the unwelcome to leave? Will free resources encourage irresponsibility in training choices and inflation of the costs of college? Will the government effort to penalizing earning create a greater appetite to grow government programs of this sort? Will injustice be multiplied by flawed implementation of the city’s attempt to decide who owes taxes and why?

Second, it is not a function of city government to create higher education programs.

Cities have clear responsibilities they already struggle to meet within existing revenues—infrastructure, public safety, land use, etc.

This proposal obligates the city to create a higher education program that has a number of problems:

  1. It duplicates state and federal programs regarding higher education and financial assistance
  2. It unfairly discriminates against private higher education and training opportunities like the six private vocational training programs in Olympia itself.
  3. It decides for city residents that college is “good” and refuses to fund other life-preparation or self-sufficiency opportunities. For example, a young woman who wants to open a hair salon after getting a license at the New Market Skills Center is charged a fee by the city, but a young woman who wants to spend time at college with an undeclared major gets paid.
  4. It lacks any meaningful accountability to make sure a public interest is accomplished with the money spent. What if students drop out? Will their chosen studies actually result in self-sufficiency? What if they are fully funded through other financial aid programs?

The city of Olympia has a clear scope of responsibility, and funding state institutions of higher education is not one of them.

Third, the initiative is unconstitutional.

Freedom Foundation attorneys are examining this proposal, and we take our defense of liberty and taxpayers seriously.

In an unbroken string of rulings, income taxes have been struck down by the state Supreme Court as a tax on property in violation of other parts of the state constitution (Article 7 section 1 and 2)

Likewise, the state and federal Constitutions require that taxation be uniform. An arbitrary tax on the property of some of the residents of Olympia violates the state Constitution (Article 1 section 12—equal application of laws) and likely the U.S. Constitution (14th Amendment—equal protection), as well.

A bad precedent

Why would King County socialism activists invest $50,000 in a small-town initiative to implement these policies?

Perhaps to lay the groundwork for a test case on the constitutionality of an income tax now that the Washington State Supreme Court seems much more attentive to the interests of government unions.

Perhaps because the news coverage from the state’s capitol would help normalize this extreme idea of plundering the few for the benefit of some others.

Perhaps because other cities will, like dominoes falling, get their turn to embrace this radical departure from equal protection of the laws. The precedent was already established with the SeaTac minimum wage initiative.

Next steps

The city of Olympia has heard from Freedom Foundation experts and several local Freedom Foundation members. The city council was planning to introduce an “improved” version of the income tax, but now The Olympian reports that it is planning to seek a court ruling that the initiative is unlawful to keep it off the ballot.

This effort makes the importance of local elections and local activism very clear. The Freedom Foundation is fundamentally a grassroots organization, and remains committed to local action. Local change and leadership is necessary to turn the tide of Washington away from a culture of individual oppression, government-managed economies and big, unaccountable government.

Testimony begins at 39:10