Socioeconomic rights enshrined internationally in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 70 years ago are increasingly animating U.S. campaigns against inequality.
A new campaign is rising up to “Trump-proof Seattle” with innovative city-level solutions to the deep problems created by the administration’s proposed budget cuts.
President Donald Trump’s first proposed federal budget will have devastating consequences for millions of working families should it ever go into law. Katie Wilson, the co-founder of the Seattle-based Transit Riders Union, is leading an innovative campaign to “Trump-proof” her city from those consequences.
That campaign is aiming raise new revenue from Seattle’s wealthiest to fund the necessary programs left underfunded by the state and the Trump budget. Inequality.org talked with Wilson about the campaign.
Inequality.org: What’s Trump-Proof Seattle?
Katie Wilson: We’re proposing a modest tax on high-income households in Seattle to fund essential programs in the city. We haven’t settled on a threshold yet, but are likely looking at household income in excess of $250,000 per year. A tax of just 1.5 percent could raise over $125 million per year for the Seattle city budget.
Here in Seattle we have a housing crisis. People are being displaced, families are becoming homeless. Trump’s budget would exacerbate this crisis by cutting federal funding for affordable housing and emergency shelter. It would also defund major transit projects.
We can’t count on solutions at the federal level coming anytime soon, so we need our city and our state to step up for the most vulnerable members of our community.
Inequality.org: Why do you think this is going to work in Seattle?
Wilson: Many people probably don’t know that Washington State’s tax system is the most inequitable in the nation. We’re one of just a handful of states that doesn’t have a tax on income, which means we rely heavily on sales taxes and property taxes. These revenue sources are regressive—they ask more from poor and working people and less from the rich.
We’d love to see action taken at the state level, but we’re being realistic about what’s feasible right now. The Seattle city council has a strong progressive vision, and we’re hopeful they will pass this legislation quickly. So many people in Seattle have been jolted into action by Trump’s election, people want to see bold action. That’s why we know we can win.
Inequality.org: What’s the Transit Riders Union?
Wilson: We’re a democratic organization of transit riders that started about five years ago to organize for affordable and accessible mass transit. Our first major victory resulted in ORCA LIFT, King County Metro’s pioneering low-income reduced-fare program. We decided to take on this progressive income tax campaign because we’re tired of having to endorse regressive tax increases to expand our transit system.
Inequality.org: Who else is working on the Trump-Proof Seattle campaign? [pullquote]We’re not willing to wait around to see how bad things get, or which of Trump’s threats are real and which are just bluff and bluster. [/pullquote]
Wilson: Early this year TRU partnered with the Economic Opportunity Institute, and together we’ve built a coalition of 40 community, labor, environmental, and social justice organizations. Right now we’re organizing town hall forums around the city to educate people about progressive taxation and demonstrate public support to our city councilmembers.
Inequality.org: Does Seattle have the authority to collect an income tax?
Wilson: With this measure, we’re pushing into two disputed legal areas. People have long assumed that a progressive income tax is unconstitutional in our state, and also that cities have very narrow taxing authority. We disagree.
We expect this local income tax to be challenged, and we welcome that, because a challenge will give the Washington State Supreme Court a chance to rule on these questions anew. We’re working on language now and hope to have the ordinance passed before the end of the summer.
Inequality.org: Why talk about your campaign as “Trump-proofing”?
Wilson: If Trump and the GOP succeed in repealing the Affordable Care Act, that will amount to a massive tax break for wealthy households. Our proposal would enable Seattle to reclaim some of that revenue and use it to strengthen our communities against potential cuts to health care, housing, transit, and other vital services that are in danger under Trump’s administration.
We’re not willing to wait around to see how bad things get, or which of Trump’s threats are real and which are just bluff and bluster. We need action now.
Inequality.org: How can folks get involved?
Wilson: For people in Seattle, come to our events! Volunteer! Call your city councilmember! There are lots of ways to get engaged. Check out our website.
I’d encourage activists in other cities to look for creative and tangible policy changes they can make starting at the local level. There’s so much energy right now, let’s use it to make change. And, of course, people are more than welcome to donate to our campaign!