Seattle City Council reverses course, repeals homeless service tax on job creators
(Courthouse News Service) In a surprise move, the Seattle City Council voted 7-2 to repeal a $275-per-employee homeless services tax on the city’s largest businesses passed unanimously just weeks ago.
“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. These challenges can only be addressed together as a city, and as importantly, as a state and a region,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement announcing the special vote.
After the council passed the tax to fund homeless services on May 14, a corporate opposition led by Amazon organized an initiative to reverse the tax. The effort quickly garnered enough required signatures to place a referendum on the November ballot, according to the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
Amazon, one of Seattle’s largest employers, paused construction of a downtown office tower before the May vote and supported Durkan’s threat to veto the original $500-per-employee proposed measure. The online sales giant made $3 billion in profits last year, a jump from $2.4 billion in 2016.
“We have heard the people of Seattle,” Durkan said on Twitter.
Councilwoman Lisa Herbold, who voted to repeal the tax, said it was “completely heartbreaking.”
“This is not a winnable battle at this time,” Herbold said.
After seeing polling data over the weekend, Herbold said the number supporting the repeal initiative “is simply too great to overcome.”
Councilwoman Kshama Sawant held a press conference before the meeting to denounce the vote, saying it was “capitulation” to big business, including Amazon.
Sawant also called out the council Monday on Twitter.
“This is a capitulation to bullying by Amazon & other big biz,” Sawant tweeted. “This backroom betrayal was planned over weekend w/o notifying movement (incl. my office)”
“I have a news flash for this council. This was never going to be easy,” Sawant said before voting against the repeal. “This is a cowardly betrayal of the needs of working people,” she said.
After a raucous council meeting lasting several hours with continuous heckling from the public gallery, Sawant and Councilwoman Teresa Mosque opposed the repeal, with Herbold and Council members Bruce Herrell, Rob Johnson, Debora Juarez, Mike O’Brien, Sally Bagshaw and Lorena Gonzalez supporting.