Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

Just How Heavy Is Seattle's Tax Burden?

Being asked to pay extra for transit or schools is a regular event for Seattle voters. In Tuesday's election, they backed the $930 million Move Seattle levy.

So it’s a logical question: Are Seattle taxpayers carrying a heavier tax burden than people in other major U.S. cities?

The answer, according to one study, is that Seattle’s tax burden remains one of the lowest in the land, at least for people with a middle income or better.

The District of Columbia annually tracks the tax burden in the biggest cities in every state and found that in 2013, the latest data available, Seattle placed around the seventh-lowest overall.

But there was one important exception, and that is the reality faced at an income of around $25,000. The study found that families earning that amount in Seattle faced the 13th-highest tax burden among the major cities in 2013. Philadelphia had the highest burden in that income level and was first or second for all brackets.

A comparison to Portland, Ore., reveals differences in the tax burden.

A low-income family in Portland paid about 6 percent of its income to state and local taxes. In Seattle, the same family paid nearly double that rate.

One reason for this is our sales tax, the fourth highest among the major cities. It doesn’t break the bank for people who are comfortable. But it counts when you aren’t.

Another factor, said Lori Metcalf, who worked on the report for the District of Columbia's Office of Revenue Analysis, was in how the effect of property taxes on rent was calculated. Places like Seattle with high real estate values and rents ranked higher in that tax burden on lower-income families, she said.

At the other end of the income scale, the D.C. analysis found, the opposite was true of the tax burden. A Seattle family making $100,000 a year was paying 6.5 percent of its income to state and local taxes. The same family in Portland was paying double that.

The reasons: Washington state has no income tax, and property tax rates in Seattle are less than they are in Portland.

Correction, 10:30 a.m., 11/3/2015: An earlier version of the graphic and story incorrectly referred to which taxes were included in the District of Columbia study. It included state and local taxes.

Why you can trust KUOW