Stymied at Seattle City Hall so far on her quest for an Amazon Tax and watching political alliance forge in the run-up to her reelection last fall dissolve, City Council member Kshama Sawant says she will make a bid this week to take back control of legislation to create a COVID-19 relief fund and a new tax on Seattle’s largest businesses to pay for affordable housing.
Sawant announced she is taking up discussion this week of the relief funding and new tax in the council committee she controls, a rogue move in defiance of council President Lorena Gonzalez’s decision last week to table the tax over concerns about violations of public meeting laws during the COVID-19 crisis.
“The argument that our virtual, open, filmed, broadcast, recorded council meetings are not open enough, justifying cancelling those meetings in a backroom deal, and claiming this is in defense of open public meetings, is truly Orwellian,” the announcement of Sawant’s planned Thursday night meeting of her Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee reads:
Accordingly, the City Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, which I chair, will meet by Zoom and livestream next Thursday May 21, at 6:00PM, in a public meeting, with full public oversight and involvement, to continue important discussions on the Tax Amazon legislation sponsored by me and Councilmember Tammy Morales. The committee will also discuss how renters are getting organized building by building, and how we can fight for a full suspension – without consequences – of rent, mortgage, and utility payments, making the big banks and billionaires pay for this crisis:
City Council Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee meeting
to continue discussions on our Amazon Tax to fund COVID emergency aid, jobs, housing, and the Green New Deal
Thursday, May 21
Sawant’s gambit follows Gonzalez and the council’s icing of the proposed plan and tax on the largest 2% of businesses to fund the construction of up to 10,000 units of social housing and the conversion of homes to environmental standards in line with the Green New Deal starting next year. As the COVID-19 crisis spready, Sawant and South Seattle council rep Tammy Morales pushed the plan forward to also create a $500 a month Seattle relief payment program for up to 100,000 households to begin later this year. Mayor Jenny Durkan and city business advocates have opposed the plan.
The situation is also unravelling connections made between Sawant’s office last year as a handful of council colleagues changed course and endorsed the socialist candidate in her successful bid for a third term. This week, Sawant is criticizing one of those supporters after Teresa Mosqueda followed Gonzalez’s direction and canceled planned discussion of the tax in the Select Budget Committee Mosqueda chairs.
The icing of the legislation was the second major procedural roadblock Sawant has faced in championing the new business tax. Earlier, her office was dealt a bureaucratic defeat when her council counterparts opted to send the proposal to the budget committee and down a legislative pathway not controlled by the Socialist Alternative representative for Capitol Hill’s District 3.
Sawant and the Tax Amazon group pushing for the new tax, meanwhile, are also working toward a possible ballot measure should the pathway through city council end in a roadblock. Their challenge in that process is to collect enough signatures to get the proposal on the ballot even if the council does not act. The group was joined by the National Lawyers Guild in a call for Seattle and Washington officials to act to allow the initiative signature gathering process to move online during the COVID-19 crisis.
From a legislative perspective, Sawant’s attempt to wrest back control of the City Hall pathway for a possible tax doesn’t seem likely to get far. With the representatives on her committee facing possible legal action over the open meetings concerns, Sawant is likely to find herself without the required quorum to convene a formal online City Council session.
But, she says, the city should fight to defend the process of crafting a new tax on big businesses — not give in to restrictions from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office on public process during the COVID-19 crisis.
“In trying to stall our Tax Amazon legislation, the Democratic political establishment is protecting these companies, their profits, their power, at the expense of ordinary working people, who today are struggling to survive this pandemic,” her statement reads. “They are trying to stop a small fraction of the enormous wealth of these corporations from being put toward urgent social needs.”
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