The Call to “Tax the rich!”… Just Got Real

by Sharayah Lane

Supporters of Seattle’s proposed wealth tax crammed into City Council Chambers on Wednesday afternoon, vocalizing their backing for a new tax on the city’s high-income earners.

South Seattle residents held a banner spanning the back of the chamber with the words “District 2” written in black marker, along with hundreds of cards from community members supportive of the proposal affixed to it.  

Banner displaying handwritten cards from District 2 residents in support of the income tax proposal. [Photo: Sharayah Lane]
“This comes on the heels of sustained movements we’ve been building,” said Councilmember Kshama Sawant before opening the meeting for public comment, “this is an incredible moment we would not have reached without being consistent and defiant.”

The tax would be a shift away from what some residents see as a succession of regressive taxes imposed over the years disproportionately impacting low-income earners, such as seemingly ever-increasing property taxes and last week’s sugary beverage tax.

The tax would require all individuals living in Seattle earning over $250,000 per year, and couples filing jointly earning over $500,000 to pay 2% on every dollar they make over these limits.

For example, a person making $300,000 a year would be taxed 2% of the $50,000 they made above the $250,000 mark, requiring them to pay a total tax of $1000.

The tax is projected to raise $140 million in the first year. This revenue will be restricted to:

  • Public services such as housing, education and transit
  • Replacing federal funding that may be lost due to federal budget cuts
  • Reducing the burden of regressive taxes
  • Creating green jobs
  • Implementation and administration of the tax itself

The details of the implementation and allocation of the tax revenue are still unclear. Specifics of exactly which of the above programs will receive funding and how much of the funding each will receive will need to be worked out along the way.

Supporters of the legislation also included people who would be required to pay the tax.

“I am a tech worker in this city who would be subject to this tax,” said Microsoft employee Ned Friend during public comment, “and I will be looking forward to the day that I can pay my fair share to keep Seattle wonderful.”

Proposal supporters also anticipate potential political and legal push back from the rich footing the tax bill.

“I anticipate that the super rich will fight this with every tool that they have,” said Ted Vidrone who is a member of Councilmember Sawant’s staff, “especially because it’s precedent setting. But this legislation is just we will defend it in the courts also.”

Meanwhile, the ordinance appears likely headed for passage in the council. It will then just as likely have an uphill battle against potential challenges at the state level, as the state constitution currently prohibits a city from impose an income tax of its own.

However, some are already looking ahead to other measures.

“We have won the fight for $15 and after we tax the rich, next we need rent control in this city,” urged Councilmember Sawant who was met by cheers from those packed in the chamber.

DSC06076Sharayah Lane is an active seeker of good stories and social justice in Seattle. She is a new mama who loves spending time with her son Ian and watching him discover the world.  She enjoys long naps, good books, and enjoying the beauty of the PNW.