There was only one Seattle City Council member logged in to participate in Thursday night’s “rogue” committee meeting on an “Amazon Tax.”
The major proposal from Central Seattle representative Kshama Sawant to tax big business to the tune of $500 million per year seemed to be moving through the council last month. It had a public hearing in late April and seemed on its way to a committee vote this month. But it was suddenly stymied as council president Lorena González tabled the tax proposal over concerns that dealing with the legislation could violate public meetings law during the COVID-19 crisis.
Sawant announced she would take up discussion of the proposed legislation in a committee she controlled despite the warnings, a rogue move in defiance of Gonzalez’s decision.
Sawant’s special meeting of her Sustainability & Renters’ Rights Committee Thursday evening continued discussion of the measure she made the centerpiece of her reelection last fall.
But Thursday night, Sawant was the only council member in attendance.
“Let’s be very clear here: the Democratic Party political establishment is trying to use the cover of legal arguments — and not very competent ones at that — to try and quash our growing movement and protect big business from taxation,” Sawant said.
Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the Select Budget Committee handling the legislation, provided a statement that Sawant read during the meeting, saying she supported Gonzalez’s move.
“I remain committed to passing sustainable progressive revenue at the city level to respond to the crisis and its lingering effects and look forward to engaging in that process as soon as we get further notice from our law department to move forward,” Mosqueda wrote.
Thursday evening’s online meeting featured more than half a dozen proponents of the suite of bills as Sawant tries to keep the conversation going on the legislation even as it has stalled in the council.
The plan would tax the largest 2% of businesses to fund the construction of thousands of housing units and the conversion of homes to environmental standards in line with the Green New Deal starting next year. Council staff estimates it would build 3,500 affordable housing units in the first five years.
By the end of 10 years, the construction side of the legislation would create over 10,000 jobs. Meanwhile, the Green New Deal investments would create over 22,000, according to rough estimates from the council.
Know a biz that'd be interested? Tag them here! pic.twitter.com/umzmaLU4rN
— Tax Amazon (@TaxAmazonMvt) May 22, 2020
“Right now as we’re dealing with both a massive public health crisis, but also entering into what could be one of the worst economic downturns since the 1930s, this question of providing safe and good-paying union jobs is going to be a really crucial one,” said Collin Moen, an apprentice with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46. “Having consistent jobs like this that are recession-proof where union members can count on them being there every year would be an absolute lifeline during tough economic times.”
But Sawant and Morales have pushed the plan forward to also create a $500 a month Seattle COVID-19 relief payment program for up to 100,000 households beginning later this year.
The program would prioritize assistance to “seniors; those that are undocumented, immigrants, and refugees; individuals experiencing homelessness; working people who have lost incomes and become destitute as a result of the pandemic; and, others who experience structural or institutional barriers to accessing support from the government.”
Dr. Zoe Sansted, the vice president of the University of Washington Housestaff Association, noted that the virus has been disproportionately impacting low-income communities of color.
“While many of our patients are struggling while they still don’t know if they’ll have a home to come home to, the biggest companies in our city bring in record profits at the expense of our livelihoods,” said Sansted, whose union is currently locked in negotiations with UW Medicine.
The spending plan includes starting the relief effort by borrowing $200 million from other city programs.
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 state officials to act to allow the initiative signature gathering process to move online during the COVID-19 crisis.
The movement launched what it is calling “Amazon Tax Prime” to deliver print petitions across the city for the ballot measure. It will start its ballot delivery campaign with several meetings on Saturday at noon, including at District 3’s Pratt Park and TT Minor Playground.
To get on the ballot, the campaign will need to collect signatures equivalent to 10% of the votes cast in the 2017 mayoral election, which means more than 22,000 valid signatures. At that point, the council can either pass the initiative or let it go to the ballot.
Thursday night’s rogue session comes as the business-backed Third Door Coalition is proposing an alternative to the so-called Amazon tax that would create thousands of units of “supportive housing” possibly funded by a new tax on King County businesses.
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