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

Ivan Schwartz
May 15, 2018

A proposal to tax companies $500 per employee was being considered for several weeks but, after Mayor Jenny Durkan threatened to veto it, the council voted to reduce the size of the tax.

When asked about Amazon's negative reaction to the response at a press conference following the City Council vote, Durkan said she stands by the legislation.

For her part, Durkan said the limited tax would "address our homelessness crisis without jeopardizing critical jobs".

Amazon raised the stakes when it announced it would halt construction planning on a 17-story tower near its hometown headquarters pending the outcome of the tax vote. The mayor had publicly hinted that she would veto the original tax proposal because of the risks she said it posed to the local economy.

However, Amazon Vice President Drew Herdener said in a statement the company was "disappointed" with the big business tax and it forced the company to "question our growth here". Representatives of businesses warned that the tax would drive employers out of town, while others speakers questioned whether Seattle's city government could be trusted to spend the additional tax revenue wisely. "If they can not provide a warm meal and safe bed to a 5-year-old child, no one believes they will be able to make housing affordable or address opiate addiction".

The council unanimously approved the final ordinance modified by approved Amendment 24 with a 9-0 vote.

"There is no way this tax will be a burden on big businesses in Seattle", Sawant told The Seattle Times.

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After the Seattle City Council vote on Monday, the Transit Riders Union, which is affiliated with the Housing for All Coalition, said the new tax would begin alleviating the city's housing crisis. There were 11,600 homeless people living in the county previous year, according to The Seattle Times. The total 2018 amended budget for homelessness spending was $77,631,259, and of that, $71 million goes to the Human Services Department.

Administration: $5.3 million (7 percent); Assessing performance and management. 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.

In recent years the city has experienced an economic boom, but in tandem with that also an acute affordable housing and homelessness problem.

Additionally, some of the agencies are getting paid based on meeting certain targets, also known as performance pay, according to a spokeswoman with the Human Services Department. "We're trying to get away from legacy contracts". United Way of King County spent around $6.5 million in 2017.

"While Amazon didn't single-handedly cause this problem, they have contributed to the growing income inequality, displacement and housing affordability issues facing our city", they said in a statement to The Seattle times earlier this month.

A new McKinsey report estimated addressing current levels of homelessness would require between $360 million and $410 million, twice what the region is spending now.

Other reports by GizPress

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