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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Proposition 2 would outlaw a local income tax, as courts weigh legality of Seattle measure

A portion of the 1040 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return form is seen in this July 2018 photo. A measure on the November ballot in Spokane would prevent the city from imposing a sales tax on citizens through a change in the city charter, after Seattle’s approval in 2017 of a graduated income tax that is still the subject of legal review. (Mark Lennihan / AP)

Spokane would be unable to impose an income tax, like the one currently under judicial review out of Seattle, if voters pass Proposition 2 in November.

The initiative, one of two sponsored by the pro-business group Better Spokane, would be the first to outlaw such a tax as part of a city charter in Washington, said Michael Cathcart, sponsor of the initiative and a City Council candidate.

It was filed in April, three months before appellate judges ruled Seattle had authority to impose a uniform income tax but that the city’s tax on income earned over $250,000 violated the state constitution because it did not apply equally to all residents. After that ruling in July, attorneys for the city of Seattle said they would ask the state Supreme Court to review the case again in hopes the court would rule graduated income taxation is constitutional.

While passage of Proposition 2 would forbid a city income tax in Spokane, it is unlikely one would be imposed over the next four years anyway. Both candidates for Spokane City Council president, the position that would have the most say on whether the city should impose an income tax, said voters already have rejected income taxes and that they wouldn’t push for them to become law in Spokane.

Cathcart said the measure is important as a business recruitment tool for the city, given the possibility that a higher court ruling could turn in Seattle’s favor and allow a local earnings tax to take effect.

“We’re not just not implementing an income tax, we’re actually going so far as to say, ‘No, we want to ban such a thing here,’ ” Cathcart said. “ ‘Please, come to Spokane. Bring your great-paying, living-wage jobs to Spokane. We want those jobs here.’ ”

There’s been no suggestion of an income tax in Spokane, and its approval in the city is extremely unlikely, said City Councilman Breean Beggs, who is running to serve as the next council president.

“It really is irrelevant,” said Beggs, who in the past has floated other types of taxes to pay for services, including police. “Because Spokane’s never going to consider an income tax, at least not in my lifetime.”

Cindy Wendle, who’s running against Beggs for council president, said she opposed such a tax, citing past votes on the issue at the state level. Washington voters have rejected 11 proposals to institute a state income tax since 1932, according to the secretary of state’s office, with supporters unsuccessfully arguing the state’s dependence on business, gas and sales taxes disproportionately burdened Washington’s poorer populations.

“Time and time again, voters have said they do not support an income tax,” Wendle said in an emailed statement. “I agree with the voters that an income tax isn’t the answer to the problems we’re facing.”

Wendle did not respond to a follow-up question about whether she believed the Spokane City Charter should be amended to prevent an income tax from being imposed. Beggs said he had concerns about the legal consequences of the initiative’s language and that it might inadvertently cut off other revenue streams for the city, which he said would “give him pause” before voting on the proposition.

Cathcart said he isn’t concerned that imposing a ban on an income tax would handcuff future city lawmakers trying to raise revenue for public expenses.

“We’re saying, ‘You’re not going to find your revenue by putting our city at a competitive disadvantage,’ ” Cathcart said, adding that future councils could decide to amend the charter again to allow them to tax income should such a situation arise.

Tim Benn, Cathcart’s opponent for the council seat, said he also didn’t support an income tax. It’s an area of agreement for the two candidates who have, in the past, embraced policies and politics to the right on the political spectrum.

“I think the voters are going to deny an income tax,” Benn said. “I think I’ll be with them on that, we’re already paying too much in taxes.”

Cathcart said Better Spokane will be launching a public information campaign on that and another ballot proposition in the coming weeks. Voters citywide also will decide mayoral, City Council and school board races.

Ballots for the Nov. 5 general election will be mailed in mid-October.