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Sisyphean Tales: Senate Shoo-In Pramila Jayapal Mulls New State Income Tax Drive

Ready for a rest after a campaign that put her more than 30 percentage points ahead of her closest competitor, and with the general election still to go, Pramila Jayapal isn’t diving into details of her plan of attack in the state Senate just yet. But she’s got some long-term plans for sure, and they’re of Herculean proportions. Or maybe Sisyphean. Basically, she wants to restart the conversation about a state income tax. Or the kind of tax on the wealthy that voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2010, when presented with an initiative supported by Bill Gates Sr. Or some other alternative to the regressive sales tax that she can’t think of yet but probably won’t be an easy sell either. As she notes, anyone who has put forward such an idea in the past “has failed miserably.”

So why does she say she’s “most excited” about this right now? She says she sees no other choice. In her race for the South Seattle, 37th District seat that Adam Kline’s retirement left open, the longtime immigration rights activist says she was presented with a host of urgent needs, from finally passing a transportation package to dramatically ramping up education funding in a way that will satisfy the judge overseeing progress on the landmark McCleary decision.

The money’s got to come from somewhere, and she argues sales taxes will only take us so far. They don’t fully take advantage of the growing wealth around here because they only apply to what we buy, and just goods not services. Plus, they’re widely regarded as “regressive,” meaning the poor pay a larger share of their income than do the rich.

As she talked about this while doorbelling, people let her know that they weren’t prepared to pay an income tax on top of all the other taxes they pay. So she says the state would have to tinker with the whole tax system, possibly in a way that kept a lesser amount of sales taxes and combined them with an income tax.

That’s a huge undertaking, which is why she envisions it as a “serious, multi-year effort,” not anything she can remotely accomplish next session. And she still has the general election to get through and the changing politics of the legislature to figure out. A few tight races, like the one involving turncoat Democratic Tom Shelton, leave it uncertain whether the Senate’s ruling Majority Coalition will hold.

Still, she says, “that’s what I’ve spent the most time thinking about.” She adds that she hopes her strong showing this week will give her some leeway. So we soon may see her start rolling the ball up the hill.