Stung by the head tax
By Jean Godden
Pity the poor Seattle city councilmembers. They apparently have gone tone deaf. By law they are required to conduct public business in public. But, when they hold meetings in council chambers, they are often overwhelmed by activists, many of them members of Kshama Sawant's socialist alternative party.
Some visitors are loud -- booing and cheering, chanting and interrupting. There are council rules meant to keep order, but these are frequently overlooked. The public comes equipped with signs that push specific issues. Some signs are the size of pillow cases, but others are the size of a line of bedsheets.
During the June 12 special meeting -- called so councilmembers could vote on a head tax repeal -- partisans marched a giant "Tax Amazon" banner to the front of the chambers, obscuring most views. There are council rules prohibiting such behavior; but the rules went unenforced. As the council prepared to vote, the chamber erupted in pandemonium. Members of the press, unable to hear, pleaded to have votes retaken. Their pleas went unanswered and the clerk tallied the vote: 7 in favor of repeal; 2 opposed.
Small wonder councilmembers, deafened by the roar of the crowd, have grown clueless and tone deaf. Were they not aware that many opposed a head tax? Or that their constituents were among the 45,000 who signed a referendum petition?
The head tax flip-flop has not been the council's finest hour. In fact, the council is facing a lawsuit, charging that the special meeting missed a 24-hour notification requirement and that councilmembers may have acted illegally by engaging in private exchanges to back a repeal vote.
None of the council's actions have reflected much glory. Take, for example, the council's assembling the Progressive Revenue Tax Force, a group heavily stocked with individuals associated with the human service sector but with little business representation. The task force recommended a high tax -- 26 cents per hour, about $500 per employee -- that would be paid by some 600 Seattle businesses.
The $500 head tax gained support from five councilmembers. After objections from the mayor who could have vetoed a 5-4 vote, the tax was reduced to $275 per employee. On May 14, the compromise head tax, still highest such tax in the nation, passed unanimously. Immediately repeal petitions circulated and many lined up, waiting to sign.
After the June 12 repeal vote, some councilmembers cast blame on Trump voters and conservative business interests. Never mind that opposition came from householders and even from relative newcomers, the Johns and Janes of city politics who scarcely qualify as overwhelmingly Republican.
In the aftermath, councilmembers have work ahead of them. One of the first concerns is working to alleviate the homeless crisis, which supposedly was the impetus for the head tax. So far the unsheltered have only been a pawn in the failed chess match.
Mayor Jenny Durkan, rightfully, has directed attention to the reality that the city needs to enlist other jurisdictions -- King County and the state -- in helping to assuage homelessness. Already she has been pushing to reactivate such regional solutions as One Table. Getting more funds to throw at the problem -- prior to devising plans for their use -- should never have been the central aim.
All of this leads to questions about a city's core mission. Is maintaining a business-friendly climate part of a city's responsibility? In recent years, preserving a stable business outlook has seemed a low priority for the Seattle City Council. Councilmembers passed the nations' highest minimum wage, paid sick leave and secure scheduling provisions. (Full disclosure: As a councilmember through 2015, I voted for the $15 minimum wage and the paid sick leave ordinance and would do so again.)
Recent developments, such as higher property tax levies, the attempt to enact an income tax and the on-again-off-again head tax, appear to signal a disregard for business interests. This comes at a time when businesses are more portable than in the days of large manufacturing plants. You cannot easily move a steel mill or a plane factory, but today you can move programmers and tech farms.
Seattle does not need a jobs-be-damned reputation. The work ahead of us is to enlist all sectors and all jurisdictions in reaching solutions to the homeless crisis. The council's task is to engage in that work and -- above all -- to listen to voters in their own districts. While it is true that there are noisy distractions during council meetings, that is no excuse for tone deafness.
You've lost your mind Jean Godden. You say the city council needs to address homelessness, when they do you say they are attacking business interests. Those monied interests are uninterested in a real solution to homelessness and will not build more affordable housing nor will they provide any other real solutions. I won't apologize for the flip flop on the head tax, it's unforgivable in my mind that the council is willing to so completely comply with Amazon's threats. Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda are the only two council members who deserve to keep their seats, they're the only ones willing to stand up for regular people against the disgusting and seemingly unstoppable wealth aimed at prevent progressive change in Seattle. Jeff Bezos has become the world's richest man while more and more people in Seattle are forced onto the streets. And you say it's the poor wealthy business owners we should feel sorry for? That is truly gross and positions like that are why more and more around the country, including in Seattle are recognizing the double standard that exists. When people come out to support sensible legislation that will help regular people, you describe them as screaming socialists. I say good riddance to you and the business interests you want brought back to the forefront.
"Those monied interests [...] will not build more affordable housing nor will they provide any other real solutions."
Why should they? How is it their responsibility?
"Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda are the only two council members who deserve to keep their seats"
The Sawant era is nearing its completion. Her antics, and those of her movement, are divisive and counterproductive.
"When people come out to support sensible legislation that will help regular people"
Stealing money, even when it's for a noble cause (helping others), is still wrong. You're talking about money that isn't yours, or the City of Seattle's. If you can't convince people (or businesses) with words why they should contribute, then you don't deserve their money. If you take it by force against their will, you're a thief.
"you describe them as screaming socialists."
Did you watch the special session? Calling them screaming socialists is pretty accurate.
Jeff Bezo cleverly milked public resentment against the city council and lined up a familiar family own local business, Uwajimaya, to help drum up sympathy for squashing the head tax.
I don't have much sympathy for a behemoth that is eviscerating the retail marketplace, and operating low-paid fulfillment centers. Why is it that Seattle indignantly rails against Wal-Mart, but goes silent when Amazon does the same thing - and on an even large scale? (Can anyone say "provincial hypocrisy?")
Both Amazon and Uwajimaya operate in a state relatively free of red tape, at least compared to many other states. Uwajimaya enjoys no competition; in California there are at least three competing Japanese supermarkets.
Seattle is - and has always been a company town masquerading under a superficial layer of progressive politics. A city of smoke and mirrors.
Jean....I pretty much agree with "all" your comments. When u have an idea, where money is involved, you have to build consensus for your belief...In this case there was an idea, but no consensus for a plan...In this day and age, if I am paying, I have a right to see how my money is being spent (if I am the one being taxed). I hope the members of the council learn an important lesson..."show me the plan" before you ask me to pay a higher tax....and don't believe the common citizen would have not seen a price increase on something. Business people are responsible to their share holders...period.. One last comment...Why does Uwajimaya enjoy only a small amount of completion? Anyone that wants to can compete with them...I would suggest they have built a "better mouse trap' than the competition...