Seattle’s much-ballyhooed “gun violence tax” revenue has fallen far short of projections when the controversial tax was adopted in 2015, but just how short the city isn’t saying.
More than a year after the Seattle City Council rushed through the tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition, the city has admitted that its first-year revenue figure was far short of the projected $300,000 to $500,000, but all the city will acknowledge is that it is “less than $200,000.”
Seattle Times readers are wondering, in reaction to a story posted Wednesday morning.
The reluctant disclosure is in reaction to a 2016 Public Records Act request by TheGunMag.com and Second Amendment Foundation. SAF founder Alan Gottlieb, who is also publisher of TheGunMag.com, said a generalized figure of “less than $200,000” does not satisfy the original PRA request.
On Tuesday, SAF sent a news release invitation to other Seattle-area media to join or support TheGunMag.com’s PRA lawsuit.
“Back in 2015, when the city adopted this gun tax, there were predictions that it would generate between $300,000 and $500,000 in revenue,” Gottlieb recalled. “Here we are, more than a year after the tax took effect, and the city still hasn’t released any information. The public has a right to know whether this was an accurate forecast, or just a pie-in-the-sky sales pitch to push this tax into law.
“Other news agencies have sought this information,” he added, “and we invite and challenge the media to join with us in the fight to protect the First Amendment and the people’s right to know because this is clearly a First Amendment issue. The city has argued that releasing the tax revenue information would jeopardize the privacy of the few businesses that have paid the tax, but that argument seems pretty thin. It’s becoming our strong suspicion that the city doesn’t want to release the revenue figure because it doesn’t come close to what they predicted.”
Glen Lee, director of Finance and Administrative Services declined to elaborate on the dollar amount.
“That was the most we could disclose,” Lee said in a telephone conversation.
Julie Moore, communications director for the department, said, “Typically, a business that reports less than $150,000-$200,000 in net taxable annual revenue are asked to file their business and occupation (B&O) taxes annually; those over that amount are assigned quarterly reporting status. Those subject to the firearms and ammunition tax were asked to report that tax at the same time as they report their B&O taxes.”
Lee said state law and city code “support” withholding more detailed information in the interest of taxpayer privacy. If the city were to provide a more accurate figure, he explained, that could result in disclosing taxpayer information.
In an email provided to the Seattle Times, the city also said that there are “approximately 15 potential firearm and ammunition taxpayers in the city for 2016.
The same information was provided to attorneys for SAF and TheGunMag.com, which are suing the city over failure to disclose revenue information under the Public Records Act.
The city is being sued separately by SAF, the National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation, along with two firearms retailers, in a direct challenge to the tax. They argue that the tax is a form of gun control and therefore violates Washington State’s 33-year-old preemption law.
Recently, the city disclosed that it has not spent any of the gun tax revenue to pay for the “gun violence” research that it was originally supposed to fund. Instead, the city has allocated $275,000 from the general fund to pay for the research, while the lawsuit is still in progress. Now Seattle taxpayers can wonder what other program that money was diverted from.