City council passes scaled-down head tax

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

Affordable housing advocates have held several events in support of the "head tax" at Amazon's Seattle headquarters.

Councilmembers who advanced a proposal out of committee on a 5-4 vote Friday want businesses with more than $20 million in gross revenues, such as Amazon and Starbucks, to pay roughly $500 a year per full-time worker. It sunsets in 2023. About 60 percent of the revenue will go to creating deeply affordable housing, and about 40 percent for homeless services, with an emphasis on programs that get people into emergency and temporary housing. Some construction workers opposed the tax out of concern for their jobs while supporters pressed the council to do something about the rapidly expanding number of homeless families in the city. The council would have needed an additional councilmember to change their no vote to a yes in order to prevent a veto.

Two of Seattle's best-known corporations took direct aim at the city's new head tax Monday evening.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant cast the only "no" vote Monday on an amendment that reduced the size of the tax.

González said she was pleased to have the support of nearly every councilmember - Sawant did not support the amendment, but ended up voting in favor of the tax - but disappointed she couldn't find support for more.

Under the approved head tax, 591 units of mixed-income housing and permanent supportive housing are expected to be created in the five-year spending plan.

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Proponents say people are dying on the streets, and while city-funded programs found homes for 3,400 people a year ago, the problem deepens.

González said she had hoped to be voting "on a different package" with more money, but "I'm glad to be able to finally move this forward".

"There is no way this tax will be a burden on big businesses in Seattle", Sawant said, slamming the mayor for siding with "Amazon billionaires". "It seems like some of the council members, mainly Mrs. Sawant, have gone on the offense against Amazon in particular". Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson rejected calls from labor group Working Washington to charge Amazon with intimidating a public servant - a Class B felony - over its construction decision. "The results are getting worse every year", he said.

"By threatening Seattle over this tax, Amazon is sending a message to all of our cities: we play by our own rules", the officials wrote.

"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. The mayor instead proposed a tax of $250 per employee. "At the same time, our city must urgently address our homelessness and affordability crisis", she added in a recent emailed statement.

In a statement issued Monday, Vice President Drew Herdener said the company would resume construction on the downtown tower but was considering whether Seattle is the place for it to grow. The law would affect about 3 percent of business in the city, according to the council. It will not stand.

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