Seattle Mayor Voices Dissatisfaction With 'Head Tax' Proposal As Debate Rages On | KNKX

Seattle Mayor Voices Dissatisfaction With 'Head Tax' Proposal As Debate Rages On

May 9, 2018

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said the City Council's proposal to tax businesses, in its current form, does not meet her "requirements."

Durkan has the power to veto the hotly-debated "head tax," though she has not said whether she would do so.

The tax would charge Seattle's largest companies $500 per employee to fund solutions to the city's housing crisis. It's estimated to raise $75 million per year.

In a statement, she indicated she wants changes to the current legislation. She raised questions about the size of the tax and how long it should last.

"It’s too early to say, what’s the right amount, how long should it go?" Durkan said in a written statement passed along by a spokeswoman. "But I think what is on the table right now, we’ve seen, doesn’t meet the requirements that I have as mayor. And that is very clear."

Durkan favors an expiration date that would trigger a review of the tax after five years, which is not part of the current proposal. City Council members are poised to vote as soon as Monday. 

Tensions over the tax proposal escalated after Seattle's largest company, the online retailer Amazon, announced it was pausing construction of a tower downtown and considering canceling an estimated 7,000 jobs.

The move drew lines between residents who see the company's move as a pressure tactic and those who see it as a serious threat. Those views were on display among supporters and critics of the tax who packed a City Council committee meeting Wednesday.  

Just outside the chamber, two men faced each other, locked in a debate that has played out across Seattle for days.

On one side was Jimmy Haun, a leader with the Northwest Carpenters Union, who opposes the head tax. He sees construction jobs as one way of pulling people out of homelessness.

But he said those jobs are at risk if the "head tax" puts a damper on development.

"We have had and currently have apprentices in our program who are formerly homeless and many of our apprentices were formerly economically distressed," said Haun, who came to City Hall in his hard hat and yellow vest.

One the other side was Jeffrey Atkinson, a freelance worker in the tech industry who supports the tax. He sees the policy as a way of offsetting housing problems caused by an influx of highly paid workers.

"I've seen Seattle's affordable housing crisis and how my friends who don't have the benefit of a six-figure tech salary like myself are being pushed further and further out of the city," he said.

Atkinson thinks it's highly unlikely the tax would spur companies like Amazon to leave Seattle.

"They’re not here just because of tax structure, just because we have the most regressive tax structure in the United States," he said. "They’re here because Seattle is a vibrant city that attracts the talents they need to get ahead in the marketplace."

Atkinson said Amazon is using construction jobs at its paused downtown project as "political bargaining chips."

But Haun takes the threat of job losses seriously.

"These are complicated issues," he said. "If you do tax one thing, how will it indirectly affect the other? Construction jobs aren't just given away. These are all choices that developers make."

Union carpenters have emerged as vocal critics of the head tax. But a coalition of 10 other labor groups, including local branches of the Teamsters and Service Employees International Union, urged City Council members to pass it in a letter Wednesday.

"We know that bending to threats one by one only serves to reinforce the prioritization of corporate profits over people in crisis and working families," the letter said.