Seattle may pull ‘head tax’ after Amazon, Starbucks cry foul

Marco Green
June 12, 2018

They say they've far surpassed that number already.

In a statement released this afternoon, Mayor Jenny Durkan and the majority of the City Council-including three of the original head tax sponsors, Councilmember Mike O'Brien, Councilmember Lisa Herbold, and Councilmember Lorena González-announced they would convene this week to discuss repealing the controversial legislation. "It is clear that the ordinance will lead to a prolonged, expensive political fight over the next five months that will do nothing to tackle our urgent housing and homelessness crisis", the statement said.

Council President Bruce Harrell sponsored the legislation to repeal a $275-per-employee tax on businesses grossing more than $20 million in revenue.

The task force, which was formed to study how to pay for the city's homelessness crisis, recommended a head tax that would raise $75 million a year.

The group, No Tax on Jobs says that's not the right approach to address homelessness.

"That could result in a couple of things: It could result in Republican controlling and overriding us, or it could result in Democrats agreeing that they don't want Seattle having the employee hours tax and taking it away from us".

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, however, said she couldn't support the legislation without a replacement plan in place. Mosqueda also declined to say the legislation was a mistake, saying "the timing of this is urgency, the urgency of now to get people inside".

Sawant described the repeal as a "backroom betrayal", organized by her fellow councilmembers without her knowledge over the weekend.

Backed by Durkan and seven of the nine members of the Seattle City Council, the repeal effort is underway despite the tax's unanimous passage on May 14. A chorus of Seattle businesses spoke out against the tax, Amazon the loudest.

"It looked like Republicans would make the Seattle employee hours tax a campaign challenge in swing districts around the state", O'Brien said.

"I believe that repeal creates a good pathway for the ed levy", said council member Rob Johnson, who co-chairs the select committee on the education levy.

Herbold in a statement blamed the Seattle Chamber of Commerce for misleading voters and said people sleeping outside "will pay the price of our listening to and acting on" that narrative.

"We were sitting around asking ourselves is this the future we want for Seattle", said James Maiocco, chair of the No Tax on Jobs. The people have spoken.

Still, businesses who opposed any kind of head tax from the beginning condemned the bill as a tax on jobs, and some businesses began a campaign that would give voters the option to repeal the tax by putting it on the ballot.

"We think that we have one of the worst housing and homelessness crisis in the whole entire country and everybody has to pitch in", said Lee. "We are going to have more people living in RVs, more people living on the street, and that is a direct impact on tourism, trade, and businesses".

A campaign called No Tax on Jobs was scheduled to submit the needed signatures Tuesday to put a repeal of the "head tax" on the November ballot, a referendum that would have at least the potential of catching council members' re-election campaigns in the crossfire. The measure would need five votes to pass.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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