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Spokane voters support ban on city income tax, open collective bargaining

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 5, 2019

No legislator or city official has proposed that Spokane implement an income tax but, just in case, voters on Tuesday pre-emptively made it all but impossible.

Voters also signaled approval for a measure that would open the city’s negotiations to public view.

Tuesday night’s early tally showed voters overwhelmingly approved two amendments to the city charter by passing Proposition 2, which bans an income tax in the city of Spokane, and Proposition 1, which mandates collective bargaining negotiations be conducted in open session. Both propositions had the support of more than 70% of voters.

The propositions were sponsored by Better Spokane, a group that advocates for business interests and is led by Michael Cathcart, who won a Spokane City Council seat representing northeast Spokane on Tuesday night.

“The voters spoke loud and clear. They don’t want a city income tax and they want to make sure that there’s very transparent government,” Cathcart said. “We’re very excited about both of those passing.”

Proponents of the income tax ban characterized it as a tool to grow business in Spokane, while opponents said it was unnecessary because no income tax proposal was on the table in Spokane.

Spokane appears poised to become the first city in Washington to ban an income tax via its city charter.

The income tax proposition was filed in April, but took on new importance in July after an appeals court ruled the state’s blanket ban on an income tax was unconstitutional. The court also ruled, however, that Seattle’s income tax on individual earners over $250,000 was unconstitutional, setting up a fight that appears headed to the state Supreme Court.

As for Proposition 1, advocates said it would promote transparency in the way unions negotiate with the city by making collective bargaining sessions open to the public. But opponents, including mayoral candidate and Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, said the city can only implement such a condition on bargaining if unions agree to it – potentially putting the city in conflict with its own charter.

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