The opposition to Opportunity for Olympia’s initiative is right to point out the legal challenges that the initiative faces, but they are wrong in assuming that the case would be dead on arrival. Far from being a hopeless endeavor, the initiative provides a chance to overcome regressive incongruities within existing legal precedent.
In City of Wenatchee v. Chelan Cnty. Pub. Util. Dist. No. 1 (2014) the Washington Supreme Court implied that the authority of municipalities to tax was grander than what is made explicit by the state. The facts in Wenatchee differ from those involved in the initiative, but many of the general principles regarding municipal tax authority would apply—specifically, the determination that the power to tax should be “liberally construed to in favor of the municipality” as directed by the Optional Municipal Code.
As for the prohibition on taxing incoming, the Washington Supreme Court’s determination that income was a form of “property” in Culliton v. Chase (1933) is an extreme legal outlier. The US Supreme court has withered away the federal precedent that was used as the underlining rational for Culliton and its companion cases. Currently, the precedent of Culliton is a paper tiger that scares away progressive tax reform with a mighty roar, but its discombobulated logic gives it little bite.
Opportunity for Olympia’s initiative is a chance to make Olympia a leader in addressing education disparities and tax reform. If we are ever to make substantive changes in these issues, efforts like this need to be supported.