Seattle wants housing for the homeless; Amazon, others to pay more tax

Mayor Jenny Durkan attends the Washington Women in Trades job fair at Seattle Center on Friday

Mayor Jenny Durkan attends the Washington Women in Trades job fair at Seattle Center on Friday

In a unanimous decision, Seattle's city council has voted to tax large businesses to help address the city's homelessness crisis. According to Fox News, it will affect 600 employers in Seattle that make at least $20 million annually in gross revenue. John Kelley, public affairs chief for the firm, doubted the Seattle council's ability to fix the issue of homelessness, saying: "If they can not provide a warm meal and a safe bed to a five year-old child, no one believes they will be able to make housing affordable or address opiate addiction".

The tax was vehemently protested by Amazon (which could pay up to $10 million per year), Starbucks, and other large Seattle companies.

A quick backgrounder on the tax: past year, at the end of its annual budget process, the council formed a task force to come up with a progressive tax to pay for housing and services for Seattle's homeless population.

"It's disturbing to me that its largest employer would bully it by threatening not to make planned investments in the city", Kingston said. It was the end of a political saga that highlighted deep divisions between Seattle's business community, government, labor groups, and housing activists. The Council estimates the tax will raise roughly $47 million a year on average.

Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez said she negotiated with Mayor Jenny Durkan and her staff on the new amendment, which was unveiled hours before the council vote.

The mayoral veto needs a more powerful force for it to override, which now has the majority of only five members, who have given a thumbs up to the head tax of $500 per employee, in order to assist the homeless.

Durkan, many business leaders such as Amazon and construction-worker unions opposed it, as did Council President Bruce Harrell, Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw, Debora Juarez and Rob Johnson and some voters critical of how City Hall has been spending money.

The head-tax debate has been extremely divisive, with opposition questioning the need for more revenue for housing and homeless services, saying the city should do a better job of spending the funds it already has. To combat the problem, the city took the rare step Monday of passing a tax on jobs, with Amazon as the richest target.

Following the change, Amazon has said it will now continue construction on the new building but is still considering whether to lease space in a second tower. The initial proposal called for the tax to be $500 per employee, but the city's mayor had threatened to veto it, the Seattle Times reported. Previous year 169 homeless people died in the city where winter temperatures can fall to minus 7 degrees.

About 3 percent of Seattle businesses will be affected, according to the council. "We will also continue to work towards a regional solution to homelessness because Seattle can not go it alone", Durkan said in a statement. "I don't understand why businesses think it's wrong to help".

"To be taxed on a per head basis is not something you would want as an economic development strategy", he said.

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