Amazon 'Disappointed' in Seattle's New 'Head Tax'

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

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

A controversial proposal that will tax big businesses in Seattle to alleviate the city's homelessness and affordable housing problems was approved yesterday (May 14). The mayor instead proposed a tax of $250 per employee.

So, at the end of April, the Seattle City Council released draft legislation that would force companies with revenues of over $20 million in the city to pay 26 cents for each hour worked by a Seattle-based employee, or roughly $540 per head per year. The head tax is the largest in US history.

Supporters cite data showing Seattle's median home prices have soared to $820,000, and more than 41 percent of renters in the city ranked as "rent-burdened", meaning they pay at least 30 percent of their income on housing.

WATCH: Is head tax the right solution?

Speak Out Seattle cofounder Elizabeth James said her group wants an independent audit of all city departments, and for the city to better support law enforcement and funding for drug treatment and mental health services. Amazon said it is being forced to question future growth in the city, and noted that revenue was increasing quicker than the population increase.

"I've been really struggling with how I feel about this compromise because I've been really, really focused on the spending plan and the dire needs of our communities", co-sponsor of the original legislation Lisa Herbold said before the vote.

"Taxing jobs will not fix our region's housing and homelessness problems". "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".

"We appreciate Mayor Durkan's efforts to significantly modify the Council's ill-conceived proposal to tax jobs in Seattle", said Downtown Seattle Association CEO Jon Scholes in a statement, after Durkan introduced her original compromise. It was previously $500 per employee, but that was expected to pass without a veto-proof majority, and Durkan was expected to veto it.

As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, Amazon paused construction of a major expansion of its headquarters in Seattle pending the outcome of the tax vote and has repeatedly threatened to leave the city if it dares to demand more in taxes to fund badly needed affordable housing projects. Well, by taxing businesses of course.

"They're driving this economic engine", he said.

The tax that passed Monday will raise close to $50 million annually to fight the homelessness crisis.

Amazon has grown at a remarkable clip since it was first founded in the Seattle area in 1994. Separately, the company has committed more than $40 million to two groups: the Mary's Place shelters for homeless families, including space in company buildings; and the FareStart non-profit organization for homeless and disadvantaged men, women, and kids, including space and equipment for FareStart restaurants. It is estimated to have about 45,000 employees in Seattle now. The vote came after what the Seattle Times calls a "weekend of high stakes negotiations" between City Council members and Mayor Jenny Durkan. At that time the city will evaluate whether or not to renew the tax.

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