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Seattle voters likely to reject sales tax for the arts


 Would Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture benefit from the tax?

Update Aug. 17, 2017: King County’s proposed sales tax for cultural access program was defeated by a hair, 50.9 to 49.1 percent.

Last spring, Washington’s King County Council proposed a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to raise funds for art, culture, and science programs. The tax imposed by Proposition 1 would apply to sales throughout King County, which includes Seattle, Bellevue, and many rural areas. It was controversial from the outset.

Although backed by King County Executive Dow Constantine, the tax hike was questioned by several other council members who worried it would be burdensome for people with low income. Sales tax is widely held to be a regressive tax, meaning low-income earners pay a larger portion of their income on it when compared to high-income earners. And Washington is already considered to have “the most unfair state and local tax system” in the United States.

Despite opposition within the council, the tax increase made the August 1 ballot. As of this writing, with almost 27 percent of ballots counted, the no vote is leading by approximately 6 percent. It requires a simple majority to pass.

It’s a question of priorities

For many who oppose the tax hike, it comes down to priorities. The region has skyrocketing housing costs, choked roads, homelessness, and a need for more mental health services. Funding art is low on the to-do list for many voters. Furthermore, 37.5 percent of the county’s hotel-motel tax revenue will be dedicated to the arts, performing arts, and museums in King County as of January 1, 2021 (SB 5834, 2011-12). Read how sales tax is used shape the arts in other parts of the country.

Yet supporters say the extra revenue would allow arts organizations to provide access to the arts for all: “people of all incomes — young and old, rural and urban.” While a handful of larger arts organizations in Seattle would receive the lion’s share of the funding, it would also benefit “more than 300 smaller community organizations throughout the county.” Schoolchildren in particular would be granted better access to a variety of arts programs. Science Guy Bill Nye endorsed Proposition 1 because, as he explains it, “Before I was the science guy, I was just a kid, and it was hands-on learning that got me interested in science. … [T]omorrow’s marine biologists, paleontologists and research scientists are in today’s classroom.”

Access for All helped get Prop. 1 on the ballot and insists it will not stop advocating for the tax “until the final vote is counted.” This post will be updated once that occurs.

No matter what they fund, sales tax rate increases complicate compliance for vendors doing business in affected jurisdictions. Learn how sales tax software helps simplify it.


Gail Cole
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail began researching and writing about sales tax in 2012 and has been fascinated with it ever since. She has a penchant for uncovering unusual tax facts, and endeavors to make complex sales tax laws more digestible for both experts and laypeople.