A judge has ruled that a proposed income tax initiative for Olympia residents is invalid and cannot appear on the November ballot.
The decision was made Wednesday in Thurston County Superior Court by Pierce County Judge Jack Nevin, who said the initiative extends beyond the city’s powers and conflicts with the state law that bans income taxes.
A group called Opportunity for Olympia had collected thousands of signatures in support of a 1.5 percent tax on all household income above $200,000 within Olympia’s city limits. The revenues would be designated to create a college tuition fund for high school graduates in Olympia.
Instead of putting the initiative on the November ballot, however, the city filed an injunction that forced Wednesday’s court hearing. City officials said they wanted a judge to determine whether Olympia has the legal authority to impose or collect an income tax before moving forward with what has been called a flawed initiative.
Judge Nevin said Wednesday that the city and initiative supporters are committed in different ways to serving the public good.
In the city’s case, the challenge stems from the initiative’s lack of enforcement tools and inconsistent legal language for collecting the tax. On the other hand, Opportunity for Olympia supporters say the initiative reflects public demand for reforming higher education funding as well as the state’s regressive tax system.
After hearing arguments from both parties, Nevin said the issue is not about the constitutionality of an income tax, but the city’s authority to impose one.
“It is the question of whether the law allows this,” said Nevin, a Pierce County Superior Court judge who agreed to hear the case. “It is invalid.”
Attorneys representing Opportunity for Olympia said they will seek an emergency appeal hearing. A date has not been set.
“We are extremely disappointed that the court denied the First Amendment rights of over 4,000 voters in Olympia,” attorney Claire Tonry said. “We’re optimistic that the Court of Appeals will allow this to go to the election in November.”
The court hearing was the latest milestone for the unprecedented initiative, which first surfaced in April as volunteers gathered signatures. At one point, the city tried to come up with an alternative proposal that addressed some of the legal concerns and loopholes in the initiative.
The city filed an injunction last month to secure a legal conclusion before spending more time and money on an initiative that would inevitably face a court challenge if voters were to approve it.
Opportunity for Olympia issued a statement Wednesday that was critical of the city’s actions.
“We are disappointed in today’s decision denying Olympia voters’ right to have their voice heard on this initiative,” the statement says. “The city is wasting thousands in taxpayer dollars on lawyers in their attempt to rig the system and circumvent the will of the voters.”