Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington residents haven’t paid income tax in years, but a new initiative hopes to keep it that way for good

Members of the joint House Finance and Senate Ways and Means Committee prepare to hear public testimony in a hearing on Initiative 2111 in Olympia on Tuesday.  (Ellen Dennis / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Washington residents packed into a government hearing room Tuesday afternoon, asking lawmakers again to officially outlaw income taxes in the state.

Washingtonians have not been required to pay income tax in almost a century, thanks to a 1933 decision by the state Supreme Court that ruled an income tax to be unconstitutional unless it’s applied uniformly.

The public hearing was called over a new citizen-led initiative to ban any income tax. Thousands of people signed in either for or against the initiative. Of them, about 90% reportedly support it.

The hearing was the first of three scheduled this week for three initiatives backed by Let’s Go Washington, a political action committee dedicated to repealing laws passed by the Democrat-led state Legislature. Brian Heywood, a business owner from Redmond, Washington, has bankrolled the initiatives, spending more than $5 million to get them on the November ballot.

If passed, Initiative 2111 would put a new law on the books that would ban the state along with cities, counties and other local jurisdictions from taxing any form of a resident’s personal income.

Supporters are pushing lawmakers to adopt the initiative, arguing it will help protect state residents from any income tax in the future. Those opposed argue the initiative is a waste of time since it won’t make any actual changes.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, sponsored Initiative 2111. At Tuesday’s hearing, he testified before the committee, saying the initiative’s sole purpose is to “codify in law the state’s longstanding tradition of not having an income tax.”

“We have a system, a three-legged stool of property tax, sales tax and a business and occupation tax,” Walsh said. “The spirit of this legislation is to focus on that good system and to not cloud our fiscal policy with other sorts of proposals.”

Voters in the state have vetoed income tax proposals several times since 1933, according to the Washington Secretary of State. Most recently, it happened in 2010 when voters rejected an initiative that would establish a state income tax for residents with annual incomes greater than $200,000. The 2010 initiative picked up support from 36% of voters, while 64% voted “no.”

For years, Washington had the most upside-down, regressive tax code in the country, testified Dylan Grundman O’Neill, a senior analyst with the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. But progress has been made recently to make things more equitable, he said. Grundman argued Initiative 2111 is unnecessary and could “hamstring” future efforts to continue to repair the state’s tax code.

Two more Let’s Go Washington-backed citizen initiatives are on the docket for public hearings Wednesday. Initiative 2113 concerns the potential overturn of a law limiting when police can chase suspects in their cars. The other, Initiative 2081, would create a “bill of rights” to make parents the primary stakeholders in public education.

A legislative committee is scheduled to vote on all three initiatives Friday. Washington’s 2024 legislative session is set to adjourn March 7.