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May 10, 2018

Durkan calls for head-tax compromise

SEATTLE (AP) — Pressure intensified from all sides Wednesday just days before the Seattle City Council is scheduled to decide whether to tax big businesses to raise money to fight homelessness.

So many people packed into City Hall that many were sent to an overflow room to wait their turn to speak.

Councilmembers heard emotional testimony both for and against a proposal to tax employee hours to raise $75 million for homeless services.

Nearly 600 large employers such as Amazon making at least $20 million in gross revenue would pay about $500 a year per worker. That accounts for about 3 percent of the city's businesses.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Wednesday she is committed to working on a compromise because the city needs more resources to get people off the streets and jobs.

But she said “what is on the table right now” doesn't meet her requirements. She supports a five-year limit, a review to see whether the tax is working, and accountability measures.

Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez, one of four bill sponsors, said at an afternoon council meeting that she and others are discussing amendments ahead of a potential committee vote Friday. They're considering fine-tuning the spending plan as well as imposing the tax for a set time period and assessing outcomes before renewing it.

A full council vote could happen as early as Monday.

Amazon upped the ante last week when it said it would stop construction planning on a 17-story tower and rethink filling space in another building pending the outcome of the tax vote.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw asked for civility at the start of Wednesday's meeting, which remained relatively calm compared to one last week where residents shouted down councilmembers.

Dozens of construction workers in hard hats and bright yellow safety vests held yellow signs that read “Don't vote our jobs away.” Others held red signs that read “Tax Amazon.”

Jimmy Haun with the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters said Amazon's 17-story tower would have supported 100 full-time construction jobs. He said the tax would threaten jobs.

Other opponents call the tax misguided and say it would have harmful consequences. They also want to see more accountability of money currently spent.

Supporters say Amazon and others that have benefited from Seattle's prosperity and contributed to growing income inequality and soaring housing prices should pay to help solve some of the city's most pressing problems.

Howard Bess, a case manager who works with the homeless, called the amount “a drop in the bucket” and said the money is desperately needed to build affordable housing and help the most vulnerable.