Published: Tue, May 15, 2018
Economy | By Shawn Conner

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

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

"A tax on jobs at any level is bad economic policy and will negatively impact Seattle's economy and city tax revenues". "This is the richest city in the state and in a state that has the most regressive tax system in the country", said councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who wanted a larger tax but called the compromise plan "a down payment" to build housing the city needs.

The tax passed by a veto-proof unanimous vote. The tax would end after five years unless renewed by the city.

That's down from the $75 million a year the original proposal would have generated by imposing a $540 head tax per employee for the next few years, after which it would be converted to a 0.7% payroll tax.

The tax starting in 2019 will be $275 per employee, per year on for-profit companies that gross at least $20 million per year in the city - down from a $500-per-head tax that Durkan threatened to veto.

The compromise approval - even without a ban on so-called "sweeps" and far from the originally proposed $500 per employee mark, let alone Sawant's bid for $1,000 - also yielded a major victory to the Socialist Alternative leader and activists calling for large companies to do more to address social issues in the cities in which they do business.

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Officials in Seattle have unanimously approved a tax on large businesses such as Amazon and Starbucks to fund the fight against homelessness after weeks of heated debate and raucous hearings.

Mayor Jenny Durkan, who expressed concern that the original proposal would lead to an economic backlash, said she would sign the new tax ordinance into law.

González said she was pleased to have the support of nearly every councilmember - Sawant did not support the amendment, but ended up voting in favor of the tax - but disappointed she couldn't find support for more.

"That means that, every day he personally makes enough money to pay for Amazon's share of this tax for 13 years every day", she said.

The city's homeless population is growing, behind only NY and Los Angeles.

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In the meantime, Amazon, Starbucks, and the other approximately 3% of Seattle businesses that will be dinged in the process have some time to start saving up.

"This legislation will help us address our homelessness crisis without jeopardizing critical jobs", Durkan said in a statement.

Amazon vice president Drew Herdener said the company was "disappointed", and "uncertain" that the climate for businesses would get better. Those businesses, about 3 percent of all businesses in the city, will pay an extra $275 per full-time employee each year over the next five years, at which point the tax will expire.

"The Council is completely oblivious to what it takes to keep job creators in our state", part of the statement reads. It will not stand.

The tax also would hit such Seattle-based stalwarts as coffee retailer Starbucks and department store chain Nordstrom, as well as California-based tech giants like Apple, Google and Facebook that have enough of a presence in Seattle that they would be subject to the new levy.

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