In 1933, in the throes of the Great Depression, the voters of our state approved a graduated income tax by over 70 percent.
Analogous to what we are experiencing now, the country had gone through a concerted concentration of income and wealth prior to the “Black Monday” stock market collapse.
There was a public backlash against the "robber barons" and a call for regulation of the trusts. A populist wave was pronounced in rural America, and it is reported that farmers in Washington overwhelmingly supported the income tax, preferring it to the onerous property tax. An entertaining account of the time is contained in economic historian Robert Heilbroner’s book “The Making Of Economic Society”
In spite over overwhelming public support, a Supreme Court ruling kept that income tax from being implemented.
As a result, Washington state now ranks – unenviably – among the worst when it comes to the fairness of our tax structure.
Would an income tax be found unconstitutional today?
Prominent constitutional attorney and law professor Hugh Spitzer has an interesting analysis that suggests today might see a different outcome.