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Olympia City Council Battling With Group Over Income Tax Initiative

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courtesy of Simone Boe
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Volunteers with Opportunity for Olympia collecting signatures this past April.

The Olympia City Council is trying to block an initiative that would create a city-wide income tax, which would be the first of its kind in the state. Now it’s up to the courts to decide whether voters will see it in the fall.

The group Opportunity for Olympia says the initiative calls for a 1.5 percent tax on household incomes in excess of $200,000. The group expects to raise roughly $3 million each year through the tax, with the money going toward a public college tuition fund.

The initiative has secured enough signatures to make it on the November ballot, but it needs a final okay from the City Council to actually been seen by voters. During the council meeting this week, Olympia Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones gave the measure a thumbs down.

“I believe that the initiative that has been brought to this council, frankly, is fatally flawed. From my viewpoint, it would be irresponsible to place this measure on the ballot knowing that it will definitely fail in the courts in short order. It does not stand a legal chance,” Jones said.

 

The City Council decided to take no action at all on the measure, which forces the issue into court. Heather Weiner is with Opportunity for Olympia. She says if the city wants a legal battle — fine.

 

“It does not matter whether the city thinks something is a good policy or a bad policy, or whether it imagines it’s good legally, or bad legally," Weiner said. "That is not relevant until it actually passes into law, and then we can debate the merits of it. But at this point, the issue that’s on the table is did the voters in Olympia meet this legal standard to put something on the ballot. And they did.”

 

Weiner says Opportunity for Olympia has filed a complaint in court against the city. There’s a hearing set in the case for Aug. 17. A judge could then decide if the initiative is allowed to make it to the November ballot.

 

Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.