Kunath v. City of Seattle

Seattle imposes arbitrary and unconstitutional tax on achievement

Cases > Economic Liberty > Kunath v. City of Seattle
Case Status: Won: The Washington Court of Appeals rejected Seattle’s income tax.

The Washington State Constitution prohibits the government from levying an income tax on targeted segments of the population; any income tax must be uniformly applied to all citizens. Nonetheless, Seattle enacted an income tax targeting those making in excess of $250,000 per year with a 2.25% tax rate, setting a 0% rate for everyone else. Promoted as a “wealth tax,” the City’s income tax punishes achievement and success, while threatening poor and middle class families who could later fall subject to new city, county, and state taxes if Seattle’s gambit succeeds. PLF represents Seattle residents in a lawsuit challenging the city’s knowing violation of the state constitution.

Washington’s state constitution provides that all taxes must be “uniform upon the same class of property.” The Washington Supreme Court has repeatedly held that income is property and, therefore, the state’s constitution prohibits targeted income taxes. Nonetheless, Seattle’s city council unanimously adopted an income tax that targets the city’s “high-income” residents by imposing a 2.25 percent tax on any individual earning more than $250,000 per year, or married couples earning over $500,000 per year, and an initial rate of 0 percent on everyone else. Sold as a “wealth tax,” the ordinance is a Trojan Horse that threatens the rights of poor and middle class families. By its plain language, the ordinance imposes an income tax on each and every resident of the city. The income bands and tax rates are temporary. Experience shows that, once a source of tax revenue opens, the government will mine it—meaning that every income level is now exposed to new taxes.

PLF represents Scott Shock, Sally Oljar, Steve Davies, and John Palmer, Seattle residents and taxpayers who are seeking to invalidate the illegal income tax. They challenge the city’s unilateral actions in violation of the state constitution and laws, which threaten not only the taxpayers’ rights but also the state’s economy, which derives substantial benefits from the constitutional barriers to targeted income taxes. The city council is well-aware that the Washington Supreme Court has repeatedly invalidated graduated income taxes as unconstitutional, but hopes that the current court will overturn the characterization of income as property and open the door to more taxes.

Read full story

What’s at stake?

  • Seattle enacted its achievement tax without any Legislative grant of authority to impose a tax on income. In fact, the Legislature specifically prohibited all cities and counties from levying a tax on net income. Cities must comply with the state constitution and statutes.
  • The citizens of Washington are entitled to take part in a debate whether to amend the Constitution and whether to change long-standing, statewide tax policy. Seattle’s decision to circumvent the Legislature, and to exclude a majority of Washingtonians, from this debate must be rejected.
  • The City imposed a graduated income tax in purposeful violation of state law as part of a political strategy to create a constitutional controversy—a controversy that threatens to diminish the well-established constitutional protections enjoyed by every citizen of the State.

Case Timeline

Kunath v. City of Seattle, Opinion of the Washington State Court of Appeals

July 15, 2019 Download

Response Brief

July 27, 2018 Download

Motion for Summary Judgment Response and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment

October 27, 2017 Download

Shock v. City of Seattle, Washington Documents 8-30-17

August 30, 2017 Download

Case Attorneys

Related Posts

Donate