Seattle City Council passes $275 employee tax

Seattle City Council passes $275 employee tax

The tax will be imposed on corporations with more than $20 million in sales annually, roughly $275 annually for each employee.

The money raised supposedly will help Seattle cope with its homelessness crisis, but in squeezing the tech industry, the progressives on the City Council have forgotten something: If you tax something, you risk getting less of it, and certainly fewer jobs isn't the answer to helping the city's homeless.

Seattle-based Starbucks had harsh words for its hometown leaders.

"If they can not provide a warm meal and safe bed to a five-year-old child, no one believes they will be able to make housing affordable or address opiate addiction", says Starbucks' John Kelly, a top public-affairs executive.

Worker and church groups and others praised the tax as a step toward building badly needed affordable housing in an affluent city where the income gap continues to widen and lower-income workers are being priced out.

"We have community members who are dying", said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda before the 9-0 final vote.

The conflict is growing at an interesting time for Amazon, with the company now moving full speed ahead with its plans to start building its second headquarters as early as next year. That's lower than when it was first proposed at $500 per employee, but it is not quite as low as the $250-per-employee compromise that was voted down on Friday.

For Seattle's liberal City Council, the discussion centered not so much on whether there should be a head tax but how big it should be.

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Councilmember Lisa Herbold, a bill sponsor, said the revenue will not be enough to fully address the problem given the city's needs but said it was "the strongest proposal" possible given the veto threat.

The Seattle metropolitan area also is home to the third-largest concentrations of homeless people, nearly 12,000 counted in a January U.S. government survey, and almost half of them were living on the streets or otherwise unsheltered. Seattle's commerce chamber said that such taxes will not fix the problem. The city says it will use the new funds to combat homelessness. The tax will provide additional revenue.

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. Companies argue that the measure is a tax on jobs and will stunt a booming local economy.

"The city council views businesses as entities to be punished and taxed for every employee that they hire".

Heather Redman, a Seattle venture capitalist, took Amazon's response to the tax more seriously than Sawant.

The company expressed disappointment with the outcome. "The city does not have a revenue problem - it has a spending efficiency problem", he said.

The vice president of Amazon said the firm remains anxious about the future and worries about the hostile approach of the city council when dealing with larger corporations. "We are highly uncertain whether the city council's anti-business positions or its spending inefficiency will change for the better". Shannon Brown, who lives in a home at a homeless encampment in south Seattle, supported the measure. "There's no away I can afford to live in Seattle". Denver has enacted a similar tax, and Chicago had one but repealed it. Seattle itself had a head tax in effect from 2006 to 2009 but it was repealed to help businesses in the midst of the recession.

John Boufford with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades said he did not understand the rhetoric against Amazon, which he noted provides good jobs for thousands of people. They tend to say what they're going to do and then do it. "I'm confused about why the city of Seattle is fostering an adversarial relationship with businesses in this city".

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