How much more would you pay under a new Washington state income tax?
That’s the question posed by GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant’s website, which offers Bryant’s take on what state taxes could look like if Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is re-elected in November.
Bryant’s website is part of a recent campaign strategy to paint Inslee as a supporter of a state income tax.
Inslee’s campaign denies the claim.
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Supporters of an income tax pitch it as more progressive than other possible taxes as a solution to meet the state Supreme Court’s education funding decision known as McCleary. Some estimate that complying with McCleary will cost the state an extra $3.5 billion every two years.
But the idea of an income tax has been met with resistance by many lawmakers. It’s also been repeatedly rejected by Washington voters.
A Bryant campaign email and an online tax calculator tie Inslee to an income tax proposal. The emails suggests Inslee’s “allies in the state Legislature” want an income tax, and that Inslee would approve one if it came to his desk.
The tax calculator is linked under the headline: “New state income tax proposed if Inslee & Co. have their way.” It claims to tabulate “what you’ll likely pay if Jay Inslee is re-elected.”
A graphic on Bryant’s Facebook page also says “Jay Inslee wants you to pay a new income tax.”
Bryant’s tax calculator is based on state Sen. Maralyn Chase’s latest income tax proposal. Chase, a Democrat from Shoreline, was the lone sponsor of this year’s Senate Bill 6559, which never received a hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Chase proposed a tax of 2.2 percent for married couples who make roughly $50,000 a year or less. The tax would have risen incrementally to 6 percent of income for couples making about $120,000 a year or more.
Chase told The News Tribune and The Olympian she’s lost track of the number of times she has introduced a state income tax proposal since she first joined the Legislature in 2002. But she’s never found support to pass an income tax, even when Democrats were the majority in the House and Senate from 2005 through 2012.
“I wish I could get the governor on board but unfortunately, he’s not there,” Chase said in a phone interview. “He does agree with me that we have income inequality; he does not necessarily agree with me that we should have an income tax.”
Inslee does not support any income tax proposal, according to his campaign spokesman Jamal Raad.
The Democratic governor opposes Chase’s proposal as well as income tax proposals by state Treasurer Jim McIntire and others. On KIRO radio in July, Inslee said he didn’t support the state Democrats’ platform that calls for a state income tax.
Bryant campaign spokesman Jason Roe said Inslee’s stance can’t be trusted because the governor rescinded his 2012 campaign promise not to advocate for new taxes if elected.
Inslee proposed a capital gains and carbon pollution cap-and-trade tax measures in late 2014. Neither passed the Legislature.
Roe said the capital gains tax proposal is proof that Inslee supports an income tax. A capital gains tax on profits made from selling capital assets such as stocks would tax parts of some people’s income. It’s estimated fewer than 1 percent of people would have paid under Inslee’s proposal.
“He does support an increase in the capital gains income tax,” Roe said. “He can certainly play semantics with what income is.”
Unless Inslee says he will veto any standard income tax, “it would be very difficult for us to believe he would oppose it,” Roe said.
Raad deflected when asked if Inslee would commit to vetoing an income tax. He instead said an income tax “is not being seriously considered by the Legislature right now because they know the governor would oppose it.”
Inslee dropped his proposal for a capital gains tax in the 2015 legislative session and hasn’t committed to an approach to finding money for education yet in the 2017 legislative session.
Raad said Inslee is waiting for the findings of a legislative task force assigned to figure out how much the state needs to pay to meet McCleary. But Inslee is supporting closing tax preferences for large corporations as at least a partial solution to McCleary, Raad said.
Bryant told KING 5 in July he wants to meet the McCleary ruling with “the budget we have,” when asked if he supported closing tax preferences to pay for K-12 education.
Roe said Bryant favors “consumption-based” taxes in general.
There is no evidence Inslee wants to implement a standard income tax, which he has repeatedly said he opposes. Income tax proposals by state Democrats such as Chase and McIntire don’t have Inslee’s backing, according to his campaign.
Inslee previously supported a tax on capital gains above $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for couples, but would have exempted income from retirement accounts and most sales of primary homes. The governor said his tax would have affected fewer than 1 percent of families in Washington.
Bryant’s campaign often does not distinguish between the two taxes, and its tax calculator implies Inslee approves of Chase’s standard income tax.
If Republicans continue to control the Senate or win control of the House in the November election, it is highly unlikely an income tax proposal would make it to Inslee’s desk, based on past opposition from the GOP.
Some Democrats also are opposed to the income tax. So even if Democrats take back the Senate and keep their current majority in the House, there’s no guarantee a majority of lawmakers would push an income tax as a solution to McCleary.
Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826