With new political support and after the stalling out of statewide legislation that some feared would undermine the effort in the city, backers of the push to tax Amazon and large companies in Seattle say they are ready to take their cause to voters.
The Tax Amazon group said Thursday it is filing a ballot initiative on the tax “in order to fund social housing and a Green New Deal.”
The “community movement” is “prepared to act if [the] city council refuses,” the group says.
“Big business has long been enjoying a tax haven in Seattle and Washington State,” District 3 representative Kshama Sawant said in the announcement:
The tax will raise at least $300 million in funding annually, ongoing and with no “sunset clause,” with a tax of 0.7% on corporate payroll for the top 3% of businesses in Seattle. It will exempt all nonprofits, cooperatives, and small businesses.
75% of the tax will be used to build Social Housing. All housing will be union-built with Priority Hire, publicly owned or controlled; permanently affordable; employ principles of universal design to ensure accessibility; and be energy-efficient and green. On-site child care services will be incorporated where possible.
25% will be used to fund Green New Deal related programs. These will include making existing homes green and helping to eliminate fossil fuel usage, with work carried out by union labor and Priority Hire.
“We are ready to fight for a world where tenants enjoy the stability, security, and peace of mind provided by publicly controlled, permanently affordable green housing,” a statement from the Tenants Union of Washington State reads.
After filing, supporters will have six months to procure the needed signatures — Ten percent (10%) of the total votes cast for mayor at the last Mayoral election — to put the measure on the ballot for a November vote. That’s 21,000 or so, if you are keeping score at home.
The ballot initiative represents an expected escalation in the push to force large companies to help pay for addressing the city’s homelessness emergency, joining Sawant’s efforts of driving the tax forward on the city council.
Earlier this month, District 2 council member Tammy Morales, representing South Seattle, joined as co-sponsor of Sawant’s so-called “Tax Amazon” legislation, a proposal to create a payroll tax on the city’s largest 3% of businesses in Seattle that her office says would raise $300 million annually.
Lawyers for Sawant, meanwhile, were granted more time before a Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission hearing on allegations the District 3 representative used her office to promote the Tax Amazon ballot measure effort, a potential violation of city law. Sawant could be fined up to $5,000 per violation.
In 2018, the city council passed and then rolled back a $275 per full-time employee tax on companies reporting $20 million or greater in annual “taxable gross receipts.” That tax would have generated about $50 million annually.
A ballot initiative in Seattle on a business tax to help pay for the homelessness crisis will not be unique. In 2018, voters approved a measure in San Francisco that taxed businesses to fund housing and services. That tax, too, was expected to generate about $300 million a year.
Tax Amazon, meanwhile, says it also supports Sawant’s legislative process. “We completely support the legislation put forward by Councilmembers Sawant and Morales to the City Council, and we will fight for its passage,” a spokesperson writes:
At the same time, this ballot initiative is a vital tool for our movement, making it possible for us to run an independent campaign to bring a vote on the Amazon Tax directly to the working people of Seattle if City Council fails to act. If City Council passes and stands by a strong Amazon Tax, our movement would likely choose to not submit the signatures. However, we cannot rely on the Council majority to stand up to Amazon and big business and take action on this urgent issue, as we saw with the shameful repeal of the 2018 Amazon Tax by a 7-2 vote.
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