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June 12, 2018
Seattle city leaders said Monday they will work to repeal a tax on large businesses just one month after unanimously approving the measure to help pay for affordable housing and homeless services.
Mayor Jenny Durkan and seven of nine councilmembers said in a joint statement that “it is clear that the ordinance will lead to a prolonged, expensive political fight over the next five months that will do nothing to tackle our urgent housing and homelessness crisis.”
“We heard you,” they said, adding that the City Council would consider legislation this week. A special meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday. The measure would need five votes to pass.
The announcement of a pending repeal comes just days before Thursday's deadline for the campaign working to overturn the tax to turn in signatures to qualify the referendum for the November ballot.
The City Council last month unanimously passed a compromise plan that taxes businesses making at least $20 million in gross revenues about $275 per full-time worker each year. The so-called “head tax” would have raised roughly $48 million a year for housing and homeless services.
Amazon and other businesses had sharply criticized the tax, and the online retail giant even temporarily halted construction planning on a new high-rise building near its Seattle headquarters ahead of the vote.
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, one of four sponsors of the original tax proposal, said Monday she could not back repealing the tax without “a replacement strategy to house and shelter our neighbors experiencing homelessness.”
“We cannot wait months or until next year for another proposal or process while people are sleeping in our parks and on our streets,” she said in a statement.
John Murray, a spokesman with the No Tax on Jobs campaign, said Monday that the coalition appreciates that the “Seattle City Council has heard the voices of the people loud and clear and are now reconsidering this ill-conceived tax.”
He said they'll await the result of the council vote. The campaign has raised about $235,000, with many more employers pledging their support, including Amazon, Starbucks and Paul Allen's Vulcan.
Proponents say people are dying on the streets, and while city-funded programs found homes for 3,400 people last year, the problem deepens. The Seattle region had the third-highest number of homeless people in the U.S. and saw 169 homeless deaths in 2017.
The debate over raising taxes on businesses like Amazon in Seattle comes as 20 cities vie to lure Amazon's second headquarters and as it expands its workforce in Boston and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Cities have offered lavish tax breaks and incentives to lure the company and its promise of adding tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Critics however have said it was wrong for profitable company to push for public money, especially considering the added costs to infrastructure and services the new headquarters would bring.