Proposed income tax on wealthy draws a crowd at City Council committee hearing

The Seattle City Council Finance Committee heard public testimony on a proposed tax on high-income earners. Questions include whether it’s constitutional and whether the city has the expertise and staff to become a mini-Internal Revenue Service.

Waving signs that said “Tax the Rich,” dozens of supporters of a tax on high-income residents turned out at a Seattle City Council Finance Committee hearing Wednesday and testified in support of a measure that would create the state’s first local income tax.

Many were advocates for the homeless who urged the council to redirect the money raised by the proposed tax to ending the homeless crisis in the city. Others pointed to the city’s escalating sales and property taxes and noted that they hit poor residents the hardest.

“It’s time for the wealthy to pay their fair share. We need tax justice, and we need it now,” Susan Russell, a Real Change vendor, told the council.

Ned Friend, who said he works for a local technology firm, responded to criticism that a high-earner tax will stifle business.

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“What really makes an unfavorable business climate is tents lining highways and an underfunded education system,” he said.

A lone Republican ventured into the hearing and called the “tax-the-rich” rhetoric divisive and the proposed legislation itself unconstitutional.

“I respectfully ask the council to permanently shelve the issue,” he said.

Under the proposal introduced by council members Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant, Seattle residents would pay a 2 percent tax on annual income above $250,000. Married residents filing their taxes jointly would pay the tax on income above $500,000.

Middle-income Washington households pay an average of 10 percent of their income in state and local taxes while those with incomes above $500,000 pay a little more than 2 percent, according to the Institute on Taxation and…

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