Seattle small businesses gained an unexpected ally last year when socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant proposed a rent control law for commercial tenants. Council member Lisa Herbold followed-up recently with an idea to preserve legacy businesses.
Underlying the proposals were a handful of struggling small business owners along 23rd Ave who pushed for, and ultimately won, city assistance to help them weather a massive road contraction project.
Both ideas may require help from the state Legislature to get it done (although Sawant contends commercial rent control could be accomplished without lifting the state ban on residential rent controls). The eight state rep candidates running to fill Rep. Brady Walkinshaw’s seat in the 43rd District differ widely on their opinions of such measures.
Environmental advocate Sameer Ranade and labor organizer Marcus Courtney both said they would be open to lifting the state ban to allow for commercial rent control. Homeless and housing policy advocate Nicole Macri said she would be more interested in finding ways to encourage developers to build small spaces affordable to local businesses.
While Democratic Party organizer Scott Forbes said he would support lifting the state ban on rent control, he is less sure about the idea for a commercial rent control law. “I don’t think that business are being priced out of seat the same way renters are,” he said.
Thomas Pitchford, who worked to pass Washington’s marriage equality law, called residential rent control a “warped economic theory,” but said he would support lifting the ban and a commercial rent stabilization law tied to business profits.
Seattle attorney Dan Shih said he would have to wait to see what type of proposal came out of the the City Council, but said there could be “room for good regulation” on commercial rents.
There was little enthusiasm among the candidates for Herbold’s idea to preserve “legacy businesses.”
In conversations with CHS, none of the candidates mentioned any specific industry regulations they were interested in working on (like tweaks to the recreational marijuana system or challenges faced by Capitol Hill’s two distilleries). Forbes said one of his top priorities going into Olympia would be to augment and expand incentives for solar power so small businesses could better predict savings over time.
Adjusting the state business and occupation tax to better serve small businesses is something several candidates say they would like to pursue. Macri was one of the few candidates to propose a specific change to the B&O tax: taxing gross incomes instead of gross receipts as a way to help lessen the burden of small businesses. Ranade and Courtney both support shifting the B&O tax burden to larger companies.
In an effort to better serve home businesses and independent workers, John Eddy said he would look for way to subsidize for high-speed Internet access.
All candidates except libertarian Zach Zaerr said they supported Initiative 1433 which would raise the statewide minimum wage to $13.50 an hour by 2020. The measure would also allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Last week Raise Up Washington handed in 360,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
Seattle is on its own minimum wage course that is already outpacing I-1433. Ranande was the only candidate to say he would support a minimum wage that was far above $15. Courtney said he would like to explore a statewide model of the Fair Work Center, where he is a board member. The center helps workers excursive their rights with employers.
So far the city has taken the lead on regulating the most common business on Capitol Hill: Uber drivers.
Candidates had less concrete ideas for ways to support artists in the 43rd District. Courtney, Macri, and Ranade all said their ideas to create more affordable housing would greatly benefit local artists. Macri said she was backing an effort in King County to replicated the state Cultural Access law that passed in 2015.