Seattle City Council scales back tax to aid homeless amid Amazon opposition

Protesters attend the Seattle City Council finance committee meeting Friday May 11. The committee voted 5-4 to reject Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal of a more modest tax on large employers to address the city’s homelessness crisis.(Steve Ringman  The

Construction worker unions came out against the proposal, fearing loss of jobs, and shouted down Sawant at a recent public appearance. The measure is expected to raise an average of $47 million annually to help house and serve homeless residents, as opposed to $75 million under the initial proposal.

For the past few weeks, the city has been considering a $500 "head tax" on businesses with more than $20 million in annual revenue, a price tag that led Amazon to pause construction on its Block 18 office tower and reconsider whether it will move into the massive Rainier Square office complex. "So you're either well-off and hungry or homeless and well fed".

"We could not find the votes we needed", he told The Seattle Times.

John Boufford with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades said he didn't understand rhetoric against Amazon, which he noted provides good jobs for thousands of people.

Sawant brought up the fact that Amazon provided $350,000 to the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy - which is sponsored by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce - that went toward Durkan's mayoral campaign. The report states it would take "between $360 million and $410 million a year to tackle current levels of homelessness-that's twice today's spending". If the Seattle City Council is serious about addressing these challenges, I hope we can count on their leadership on two critical issues: the HALA upzones, which address our outdated zoning, and aligning our fragmented homelessness services system. King County, which includes Seattle, recorded a record 169 homeless deaths previous year. This revenue increase far outpaces the Seattle population increase over the same time period.

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Along with the tax Monday, the council approved a non-binding resolution that calls for spending 66 percent of the new money on affordable housing, 32 percent on emergency shelter, trash pickup, raises for service workers and other needs and 2 percent on administration. That figure could quickly rise when the funding mechanism would transition to a payroll tax.

In a 8-1 vote, the council - some reluctantly - chose a new version of the plan introduced as Amendment 24 during the afternoon full council session with sponsorship from eight of the nine members - all save Capitol Hill's District 3 rep, Kshama Sawant.

Almost 600 large for-profit employers - about 3 percent - making at least $20 million in gross revenue would pay the tax that would begin in 2019.

Sponsors of the tax said Seattle's biggest-earning businesses should bear some burden for easing a shortage in low-priced housing that they helped create by driving up real estate prices to the point where the working poor and many middle-class families can no longer afford to live in the city.

Scruggs reported from Seattle.

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