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Sawant goes it alone in rogue ‘Amazon Tax’ committee meeting

The inauguration night upporters couldn’t be at Thursday’s committee in person but Sawant said they tuned in with “more than 100 members of the public” taking part in the virtual meeting

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.

“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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13 thoughts on “Sawant goes it alone in rogue ‘Amazon Tax’ committee meeting

  1. The rest of council would just love for the problem–ie actually progressive legistation–to just go away. If they actually stood for something, they’d vote no and be done with it.

    Instead, here’s how the next few months will play out:
    1. We’re going to get a mind-numbing barrage of bureaucratic obstructionism from the council (minus Sawant), as they try everything they can to stall and water down the bill. Expect a few lawsuits thrown in the mix.
    2. Finally, facing the pressure of the ballot initiative, they’ll break down and vote yes for a watered down version of the bill. The chamber will be furious, but Pederson, Gonzales and the crew will at least be able to say ‘well, it sucks, but we tried to stop it’.
    3. Sawant will claim a victory, but the rest of the council will co-opt that ‘success,’ saying ‘hey we voted yes too!’ To their constituents, they’ll say that they *really* supported the legislation all along, they just disagreed on the approach Sawant took, ie the problem is not that they’re totally spineless corporate bootlickers, it’s just that that Sawant is a hysterical b**** who doesn’t play nice.

    • No, the rest of the council is focused on actual solutions instead of spitting vitriol at make believe enemies of the people. Let’s focus here. There is a potential $200M-$300M hole in the budget coming. If you pull $200M from other accounts to give away now there is no way to fill that hole regardless of whatever progressive revenue you pass. Further the Sawant-Morlales bill is all NEW spending so it does nothing to help the city. So I’d ask what services are you willing to sacrifice so Sawant can have her white whale or where are you going to find revenue to fill the budget THIS year knowing any new taxes passed will take 1-2 years to collect unless you pass a super regressive sales tax. No, here is what is going to happen.

      1. Gonzales will negotiate with the governor to make an amendment to the OPMA knowing that in person city meetings are off the docket for the foreseeable future. The gov will also allow non Covid related legislation to be introduced.
      2. Mosqueda will introduce an alternative version of this package with the support of the Mayor that fills the revenue hole the city is facing and they will borrow from the other funds to plug the budget gap this year. This package will probably also include a 1% income tax with credits for low earners.
      3. They will prob throw Sawant a scrap and allocate $10-$20M to affordable housing.
      Before anyone has any grand visions of shiny high rise affordable units going up remember that affordable housing is defined to include tiny home villages.
      4. Sawant will promptly introduce legislation to give that money to Share/LIHI to build more tiny villages all over the city to go along with the expanded camp ordinance she passed earlier this year. This will fulfill the pact she made with them to get her reelected.
      4. The council will pass this legislation 8-1 with Sawant voting no and casting dispersion on her colleagues for not going far enough because she has the luxury of voting no knowing the bill is going to pass.
      5. Sawant will claim “victory” for her movement and immediately call for raising the tax further.

      Actual quote from her meeting last night.

      Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.

  2. The twit tweeting needs to get her facts straight. Bezos is NOT going to become a trillionaire during the pandemic or anytime soon. The faulty projection released put it at 2026.

  3. I’m sorry, but whatever you think of Sawant, the council using the coronavirus as an excuse to shut down Sawant is ridiculous and anti-democratic.

    Sawant won the election. She has the right to propose legislation on behalf of her constituents.

    Especially considering that the coronavirus will be a problem for YEARS until a vaccine is developed, they can’t just ban democracy and have the mayor rule by fiat until that happens.

    The anti-Sawant hysteria has gone too far when you are violating the basic principles of democracy and undermining the rule of law like this…

      • So no need for democracy?

        The point of public hearings is to make things more democratic, not an excuse to shut down the democratic process itself.

        It would be one thing if this was a one week delay, but it’s not going to be possible to do in person public hearings for a long time.

    • I’m sorry, but whatever you think of Sawant, her or the council using coronavirus as an excuse to avoid public voting on her proposed legislation is ridiculous and anti-democratic.

  4. Half the people in her little presentation are professional activists and how many of the measly 100 viewers were people tuning in from out of town on the communist version of pornhub?

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