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2016 October 6 - 05:08 pm

Judge Rules Wash. Tuition Tax Initiative Invalid

Olympia Activists Sought Levy To Establish Tuition Fund

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A ballot measure to create an income tax for some city of Olympia residents is invalid and will not appear on the November ballot, a superior court judge ruled.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin, presiding in a Thurston County courtroom, ruled that the measure — which sought a 1.5 percent tax on household income in excess of $200,000 — went beyond the scope of local initiative power. The initiative sought to raise an estimated $3 million a year for a public college tuition fund that would give all Olympia public high school graduates and GED recipients tuition for at least the first year of community college, or the equivalent amount for instate public university tuition.

Nevin ruled from the bench immediately after a hearing in which initiative proponents argued that the initiative properly qualified for the ballot and that to not to let it appear would disenfranchise voters who signed petitions supporting it.

“This is a good cause. This is a noble cause,” Nevin said before he read his ruling. But he said that the case wasn’t about the court weighing in on any perceived shortcomings of how the state handles education, specifically community college education.

But he said that the ballot measure “involves powers that are granted to the city’s governing body and not to the city as a whole.”

“I believe that therefore it does conflict with state law prohibiting income tax,” he said.

Claire Tonry, an attorney for Opportunity for Olympia, said that they will immediately appeal.

“We are of course disappointed that the court did not uphold the citizens’ rights to direct democracy…but we are optimistic that the Court of Appeals will,” she said.

Some opponents have argued that Olympia does not have the authority to adopt a new tax that is not authorized by the state Legislature. But Steve DiJulio, an attorney representing the city, said after the hearing that the city has not conceded that it can’t enact a tax, just that the power lies with the council, not through the initiative process.

He said that in previous resolutions, the city “has said we’re considering this matter and may in fact do something, but this isn’t the right way to do it.”

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