It's not as though state legislators haven't tried to introduce income taxes before; it's just that now we're broke, so people are paying attention. Yesterday, Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced a bill proposing a 1% income tax on top earners--individuals earning more than $500,000 a year, heads of household earning more than $750,000, and married couples earning more than $1 million. But she also introduced the same bill last year.
(Another reason people might be paying attention to Kohl-Welles' bill this year, claims Senate Democratic Caucus staffer Anne Burkland, is that Majority Leader Lisa Brown has been writing about tax reform on the caucus' blog, the Hopper. We didn't know the Hopper was so hot!)
Similarly, in 2007, Senator Rodney Tom (D, Bellevue) gave a shot at an income tax on professional athletes who play in publicly-financed stadiums and earn more than 10 times the base salary of a beginning teacher. How's that for a targeted tax? (The bill never got a hearing.) And every year, some combination of Senators Kohl-Welles, Rosa Franklin, and Adam Kline introduces a state constitutional amendment to allow an income tax.
A constitutional amendment might be necessary because of a baffling 1930s state Supreme Court case that deemed income "property," making it subject to the constitutional requirement that all property be taxed at the same rate. Income taxes, though, are almost always graduated--meaning the rate increases as you earn more. Even flat taxes typically don't kick in until you make a certain amount of money. The upshot of the ruling is the nation's most regressive tax system.
So does an income tax have a shot? Several other states have since ruled that income is not property, providing some cover for our Supreme Court to prove it's less crazy than its predecessors. Meanwhile, Adam Kline calls Kohl-Welles' bill (of which he is a co-sponsor) "somewhere between a gesture on one hand and a serious bill on the other." But everyone thought that our epic brokeness would mean big drug policy reform, and that hasn't been the case.