UPDATE 2:10 PM: In a vote interrupted by a chanting crowd and District 3 representative Kshama Sawant’s refusal to voice her yay or nay despite threats from President Bruce Harrell that he would close council chambers if outbursts continued, the Seattle City Council voted 7-2 Tuesday to repeal the city’s yet-to-be-implemented, unanimously-passed head tax on Seattle’s largest businesses.
As she seemingly goaded on her supporters in the council chambers, Sawant paused and let the chants swell before finally casting her vote against the repeal.
Earlier, with a sigh, council member Lisa Herbold, a co-sponsor of the head tax bill, said before her vote to repeal the measure, “This is not a winnable battle.” The opposition, she said, has “unlimited resources.”
Mike O’Brien said the employee hour tax makes the most sense for the revenue Seattle needs but he was forced to vote to repeal the tax because he could not “see a path.”
Another council member who flipped from her previous support for the head tax, Lorena González said “nobody wants to talk about how we pay” for homelessness solutions. Like O’Brien, she said she still believes the employee hours tax is a viable policy for Seattle. “It gives me no pleasure to have to replace this law because this law was well done.”
“It is a defining moment in the city of Seattle,” Gonzalez said, “and it is not a good one.”
Sawant focused her more than 20-minute-long pre-vote comments on the thousands of homeless and unsheltered in Seattle, national movements toward more progressive tax structures — and the Democratic party. “They have let it worsen with no real solutions,” the Socialist Alternative leader said. She also scolded her fellow council members for giving up on swaying the public opinion of “working people” like those who supported the “No Tax on Jobs” campaign. All it would take is a summer of activism and reaching out to the working class, Sawant said.
The District 3 representative said “a tsunami of propaganda from big business” was driving Tuesday’s repeal vote. “This is a cowardly betrayal of the needs of working people.”
Teresa Mosqueda, who co-sponsored the head tax legislation with Herbold and joined Sawant in voting against the repeal Tuesday, called Amazon’s actions during the initial negotiations to shape the head tax a “hollow handshake” and repeated her call for a replacement plan before repealing the tax but said she was afraid that what will come next will be “more regressive tax structures.” “I don’t think this was about one corporation. I think this is about shared responsibility,” Mosqueda said.
“I’m absolutely ready to start on Plan B,” she said.
Dorli Rainey, an activist "all her life" of 91 years, hits the @RealChangeNews gong for King County unsheltered neighbors. In response to the vote for the EHT repeal, Rainey says, "This is Amazon 1 – Humanity 0. They know they can get away with it now." pic.twitter.com/cLgu1dig5x
— Alex Garland (@AGarlandPhoto) June 12, 2018
ORIGINAL REPORT: Tuesday at high noon, the Seattle City Council will begin a special meeting session to vote on a repeal of the newly passed tax on its largest businesses to help pay for homelessness services and affordable housing in one of the fastest growing, most expensive cities in the nation.
It’s a done deal.
Monday, seven of the nine council members along with Mayor Jenny Durkan signed onto an announcement of a proposed repeal of the tax approved only a month ago in council chambers.
“In recent months, we worked with a range of businesses, community groups, advocates, and working families to enact a bill that struck the right balance between meaningful progress on our affordability and homelessness crisis while protecting good, family-wage jobs,” the announcement reads.”Over the last few weeks, these conversations and much public dialogue has continued. It is clear that the ordinance will lead to a prolonged, expensive political fight over the next five months that will do nothing to tackle our urgent housing and homelessness crisis. These challenges can only be addressed together as a city, and as importantly, as a state and a region.”
The two in opposition to council president Bruce Harrell’s repeal legislation are District 3 Socialist firebrand Kshama Sawant and citywide representative Teresa Mosqueda.
Along with West Seattle’s Lisa Herbold, Mosqueda faced down public saber rattling from Amazon and architected the employee tax that passed in a compromise form in mid-May to implement a $275 per full-time employee tax on companies reporting $20 million or greater in annual “taxable gross receipts” beginning in 2019.
Monday, Mosqueda said she could not support any repeal that did not include a replacement plan. “While a vote may go forward to repeal the tax, our homelessness and housing affordability crisis gets worse,” Mosqueda said. “We have people who are dying on the doorsteps of prosperity, and our neighbors and friends worry about being able to afford to live in the city while we have a booming economy.”
Mosqueda says a “critical” next step is to “hear from those business leaders about how we can address our upside-down tax code while they continue to thrive in our city.”
I supported the EHT because I support investing in permanent housing for those most in need. I continue to support this measure, and these investments. My statement regarding the proposed repeal is below: pic.twitter.com/UICL05QqSP
— Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (@CMTMosqueda) June 11, 2018
Sawant, meanwhile called on supporters to pack City Hall and jam the phone lines in support of the “Amazon Tax.”
URGENT ACTION ALERT on Amazon Tax to build affordable housing: @SeattleCouncil will repeal the tax on big biz at noon tomorrow! This is a capitulation to bullying by Amazon & other big biz. This backroom betrayal was planned over weekend w/o notifying movement (incl. my office).
— Kshama Sawant (@cmkshama) June 11, 2018
Though Mosqueda and Herbold’s offices carried the legislation forward and Sawant championed the cause as a sequel to her successful drive for a $15 per hour minimum wage in the city, the driver for creating the new tax grew out of recommendations from a Progressive Revenue Task Force convened to help Seattle find new sources of revenue and better combat its ongoing homelessness and affordability crisis. Contrary to pundits who contend the city lacked a plan for how it was going to spend the roughly $237 million in tax revenue in its five years before review, the legislative process included a companion resolution outlining how the money would be put to use.
While the creation and ultimate passage of the head tax was a crawling slog of Seattle politics with a dozen or so public meetings and hearings, Tuesday’s repeal vote will take place without even public comment. It comes as a group formed by funding from many of the city’s largest employers and business groups including the downtown chamber opposing the employee hour tax announced over the weekend it had collected more than the needed signatures required to put a repeal initiative on the ballot. UPDATE: The council will reportedly amend its rules Tuesday to allow public comment at a special meeting session.
Tuesday’s vote also comes as more eyes are turning to the calendar for the 2019 election that will see all seven of the council’s district seats — including Sawant’s D3 chair — up for grabs. Only Mosqueda and fellow citywide councilor Lorena González will stand above the reelection fray.
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