Everybody has their legislative non-starters - among those issues a lot of people talk about with some seriousness. In Oregon, the sale tax. In Washington, the income tax.
Or . . . suppose you structured the tax so it would apply only to a small minority, but still raise a bunch of money? Is there a calculus under which (especially in hard times) the unthinkable becomes thinkable?
So now, introduced as of today, we have in Washington a proposal for an income tax, usually considered a poisonous third-rail subject. Democrats are proposing Senate Bill 6147, and Republicans are going to pounce (actually, take the future tense out of that).
Here's the twist: It would only apply about 1% of Washingtonians (those earning a half-million dollars a year or more for individuals, with the bar higher in some other cases) and would be set at a relatively low level - 1%. Easy to grasp.
It has backing from majority Democrats; the key sponsor is Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, along with six others. Majority leadership doesn't seem to be dousing the idea. It carries a trap door: Legislators wouldn't give themselves a final sayt; the idea would go to the voters for an up or down.
The specific statement of intent in the bill says, "It is the intent of the legislature in adopting this title to provide the necessary revenues for the support of vital state services on a more stable and equitable basis." But that's not its real political engine. What could make this possible is the specific populist environment of the moment: Go ahead and tax the rich. As matters sit, in this case, a number of Washingtonians usually unwilling to budge on the income tax might be tempted. Republicans will argue this is an entre to something larger, and they could be right. But for the moment, the ballot issue is what it is. (If it ultimately is.)
There's something much broader going on here than a typical question of tax policy. This will bear close watching.