Seattle's tax on Amazon to help homeless may fall short, locals say

Roman Schwartz
May 16, 2018

That's down from the original $500 per employee proposed by Councilors Lorena Gonzalez, Lisa Herbold, Teresa Mosqueda, and Mike O'Brien, which drew Amazon and Durkan's ire.

Amazon, the United States city's number one employer, said the levy could put future expansion on hold in the region. After deliberations between the Council, Mayor's office, and the business community, a leaner, $275-per-employee bill that sunsets in five years was eventually passed. "If you're out selling yourself somewhere, you're going to say that you're in the Seattle area because people recognize the name Seattle".

"The company recently reported record-breaking profits of almost $2 billion dollars in one quarter", according to a statement by Lorena González, Lisa Herbold, Teresa Mosqueda and Mike O'Brien, the councilmembers who proposed the tax.

The head tax proposal has divided the city.

As Ed pointed out earlier this month, the battle over the tax is being waged between one of the nation's largest companies and one of the nation's most socialist city councils. "We remain very apprehensive about the future created by the council's hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here". The firm posted net revenue of $177.8 billion United States dollars in 2017. The tax is expected to raise $47 million per year, monies earmarked for building affordable housing and funding emergency shelters.

Along with the ordinance, the council passed a nonbinding resolution that includes a spending plan for the new tax money. She cautioned leaders eyeing the company's arrival to their cities and told them that the shift may cause problems like this later down the road. Amazon's plans in Seattle after today's vote are not clear.

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Shannon Brown, 55, who has been living a tiny home at a south Seattle homeless encampment, said there's simply not enough housing for the city's poorest people.

In the meantime, Amazon, Starbucks, and the other approximately 3% of Seattle businesses that will be dinged in the process have some time to start saving up. The move by the world's largest online retailer, owned by billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, put in question more than 7,000 new jobs.

The mayor threatened to veto a tax of $500 per employee, per year, in the lead-up to the vote, pushing council members to scale down their proposal. Seattle should be a place for businesses to come, but the council seems content with passing laws that will shun this city from economic opportunities.

The head tax has ignited something of an existential debate for Seattle over its monumental growth. A new report concluded that it would require about $400 million a year, conservatively, to solve the homelessness crisis in King County.

Fueled by a population boom in recent years - its second such boom in the last decade - Seattle is now running into the same problem faced by its contemporaries: a lack of affordable housing.

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