Early election results show Olympia voters rejecting Initiative 1, which calls for creating a public college tuition fund that’s paid for by an income tax on the city’s wealthiest households.
In Tuesday’s count, about 54.8 percent of voters are saying no to the measure, according to the Thurston County Auditor’s Office.
Organized by a campaign called Opportunity for Olympia, Initiative 1 seeks a 1.5 percent tax on all household income within city limits that exceeds $200,000 a year. Organizers say the tax could generate $2 million or more a year for college tuition assistance for all public high school graduates in the city.
Initiative 1 is the first such income-tax proposal of its kind in the state — and will likely face a state Supreme Court challenge over its constitutionality, if it were to pass, because Washington state law prohibits an income tax.
The Opportunity for Olympia campaign issued a statement Tuesday night in response to the early election results.
“We are optimistic Olympia voters will approve Initiative 1 as more vote counts come in over the next few days. Voters tell us they want a better educated workforce, which will attract more businesses, create more good paying jobs, and ensure a legacy of opportunity in Olympia. And they want to ensure the wealthiest pay their fair share to support our community’s success,” according to the statement. “We can grow the economy and create a legacy of opportunity for our kids when the wealthiest 3 percent start paying their fair share — just like the rest of us.”
Led by the Economic Opportunity Institute of Seattle, the Opportunity for Olympia campaign raised about $239,000 compared to about $6,740 raised by opposition group Olympians for Responsible Tax Reform. That group was co-founded by Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby, who emailed a statement Wednesday to The Olympian.
“We have enormous respect for all those who worked so hard on this measure and who hoped to improve access to higher education for Olympia high school graduates and GED earners. We also share their sense of urgency about making our state’s tax structure fairer, and reducing the tax burden on low-wage workers and the middle class,” according to the statement. “But we’re relieved that our city government will not bear the expense or distraction of a long court case at a time when we need to focus on revitalizing our downtown, improving public safety, strengthening our neighborhoods and reducing homelessness.”
Last August, a judge ruled that the city lacks the legal power to impose or collect such a tax. However, an appellate court allowed the initiative to appear on the ballot without addressing the initiative’s validity.
Supporters cited a need to reform Washington’s regressive tax structure while helping to alleviate the rising cost of higher education for local residents. Opponents argued that the intiative was using Olympia as a test case to challenge the state’s ban on an income tax. The city had tried to block the initiative from the ballot over concerns that it contained too many loopholes and uncertainties.
More ballots will be counted this week. The election results are scheduled to be certified Nov. 29.