Seattle approves 'head tax' on businesses to fight homelessness

Amazon had some tough words for its hometown Monday after the Seattle City Council approved a tax on major employers to help fund homeless services.

Almost 600 large employers making at least $20 million in gross revenue would pay the tax that would begin in 2019.

Starting next year, for-profit companies that gross $20 million or more will pay $275 per employee, the Seattle Times reports. Another vote will be required to continue the tax after 2023.

Now the bill heads to Mayor Jenny Durkan's desk. The mayor's office did not immediately respond to request for comment. Late last week, she put her support behind a $250 per employee tax.

Quoted in the Guardian, Teresa Mosqueda, a Seattle councilor, said: "People are dying on the doorsteps of prosperity". Kshama Sawant was the sole non-sponsor. It was publicly opposed by Amazon - the city's largest private sector employer - and 131 other businesses. A veto wouldn't kill the measure now, because the final council vote was 9-0 and six votes can override a mayor's veto. Sawant and fellow members of the Socialist Alternative party organized and led Saturday's march...

The tax affects some 600 businesses. "Not just here at city hall, but all across this city", Durkan, said.

Without naming Sawant, Juarez offered a retort.

ADOLPH: As you know, I'm also a rank-and-file member of.

The tax plan, when signed into law, will help Seattle pay for homeless services and affordable housing projects.

That "head tax" formula is created to raise $45 million to $49 million a year over the five-year life of the tax - down from an original $75 million annually - to build more affordable housing and support services for the homeless. Seattle says it will get $47 million in new revenue from the tax, according to the Times.

Before the vote, Gonzalez said the city "has an obligation to take care of the people who are surviving and suffering on our city streets".

CAROLYN ADOLPH, BYLINE: A thousand people move to Seattle every week, many for tech jobs.

Schoesler says that despite proponents calling the head tax "progressive", it's actually regressive for the city's job creators. So unless the state's Attorney General really does start charging companies with felonies for leaving Seattle, this tax is going to slow the growth of jobs in the city.

Underlying all of this is the fact that Seattle really does have a serious problem with homelessness, one that is driving even some long-time residents away from the city. On the other hand, the council has also discouraged the plan of small head-tax that was primarily created to relieve Amazon from bestowing the town with 7,000 jobs.

"Will Amazon unpause Block 18 if $275 passes?"

"They're driving this economic engine", he said.

While most the most dramatic moments in this saga unfolded over the last couple weeks, today's moment was months in the making. Philadelphia has a tax on wages that is the foundation of the city's budget. She cautioned leaders eyeing the company's arrival to their cities and told them that the shift may cause problems like this later down the road.

  • Salvatore Jensen