Senate Republican leaders denounce passage of income-tax bill

OLYMPIA… Key leaders in the Senate Republican Caucus reacted strongly today after the Senate’s Democratic majority approved legislation to create a state income tax, despite knowing an income tax has been unconstitutional in Washington since 1932.

Since 1934, Washington voters have rejected 10 attempts to enact an income tax, either through amending the state constitution or a citizen initiative. If Senate Bill 5096 becomes law as passed today, on a 25-24 vote, voters will have to mount a challenge by qualifying a referendum themselves. A proposal to send the bill directly to the November ballot as a referendum was among all 15 Republican amendments rejected by the Democratic majority.

Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, Republican Leader, Senate Ways and Means Committee:

“There is absolutely no budgetary justification for any new taxes this year – especially not after billions and billions of federal dollars have been injected into our state over the past year, with the prospect of at least $4 billion more coming this month. State government isn’t facing a budget deficit, revenues are still growing from existing taxes, and the budget proposal Senate Republicans put on the table over three weeks ago shows lots of good things can be done without the need for more taxes.

“We’ve seen the emails revealing that the strategy behind this bill is to get a state income tax in front of the current Supreme Court, with the hope that it will be found constitutional. Should that happen, it’s a foot in the door toward imposing a full-blown income tax that would hit countless more people down the line.

“Our state doesn’t need an income tax. The people don’t want an income tax. An income tax is the ‘third rail’ of tax policy in our state, and my Democratic colleagues miscalculated by supporting it.”

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, Deputy Senate Republican Leader:

“The lack of an income tax is a key reason for Washington’s economic prosperity. We are fortunate to be one of the few states where tax revenue has increased since the start of the pandemic. An income tax on capital gains is not only unnecessary, it would completely destroy Washington’s advantage in attracting and growing businesses in our state and maintaining the jobs they create. If we want to grow Washington’s economy, we ought to be attracting capital, not driving it away.

“If Democratic leaders pass this tax all the way through, we can be sure the people will want to reject it – just like they did the high-earners income tax in 2010. That’s why I offered an amendment to add a referendum clause to this bill. Unfortunately, the Democrats rejected my amendment, which will only further damage their credibility because the public would be forced to seek a referendum instead of having the choice put before them by the Legislature. In a year when the people have been shut out of the ‘people’s house,’ they want a voice more than ever. Democrats today missed an opportunity to listen to the people’s voice and let them decide.”

Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia:

“It just isn’t true for anyone to claim, as the supporters did again today, that adopting an income tax is about restructuring Washington’s tax code and reducing the tax burden on the working families in our state. If it was, SB 5096 wouldn’t just take more money, it would also reduce the sales tax or repeal one or more of the other regressive taxes imposed on the people. One of our Republican amendments would have accomplished that, yet it was rejected.

“Once again we were told that Washington’s tax system is ‘upside down,’ yet households in our state making between $25,000 and $250,000 a year pay 10.1 percent of their income toward state and local taxes, compared to the national average of 9.7 percent. That hardly seems like a dire situation in need of a drastic move like the adoption of an income tax.

“The sponsors claim this is an ‘excise’ tax, even though it doesn’t fit the definition used for every other excise tax collected by our state, on goods like gasoline and alcohol. The voters won’t be fooled – they know it’s an income tax, and given the opportunity, I believe they will oppose it, the way Senate Republicans did today.”