The city’s approach to homelessness is not working. You can see it in our neighborhoods, on our streets and sidewalks.
We are the leaders of member associations in Seattle who represent businesses ranging from your favorite neighborhood restaurant to the largest employers in the city. The business community of Seattle is united as we urge the City Council to reject a call from their “Progressive Revenue Task Force” for $150 million a year in new taxes for housing and homeless services. If the council’s past actions are any indication, this added money will also fail to resolve our city’s homeless crisis.
The business community respectfully declined to participate in the task force because it was simply a justification by the City Council to establish a new tax on jobs. The outcome was predetermined, the process rushed, and its goal was simply to raise more money instead of truly solving the homelessness facing our region.
The heated rhetoric at council meetings in support of a jobs tax has been intentionally misleading. For example, some council members have publicly stated that “business needs to pay their fair share” while ignoring the fact that almost 60 percent of Seattle’s general fund revenue comes from taxes paid by employers. That’s nearly $700 million a year. The business community also has supported city levies that raised our own taxes to support parks, transportation, housing, and the families and education levy.
The city of Seattle’s treasury has benefited from the generosity of Seattle taxpayers and the prosperity created by job growth and a booming economy. In 2012, the city’s general fund and voter approved spending was $1.28 billion and grew to $1.78 billion by 2016, a 39 percent increase. Over the same period, Seattle’s population grew only by 11 percent, and the cumulative inflation in Seattle was just 6.8 percent.
It is time to ask: What is behind the dramatic increase in city spending, and what is there to show for it?
The top issue facing the city and our region is homelessness. Recommendations from national experts to effectively reduce homelessness have been ignored by the council. For example, it recently restored funding to homeless service providers who failed to meet minimal performance requirements of the city’s competitive contracting process. This is an example of the City Council’s good intentions leading to a politicized service provider contracting system.
The city’s approach to homelessness is not working. You can see it in our neighborhoods, on our streets and sidewalks, and in the annual data from the One Night Count. In 2017, there were 3,857 unsheltered homeless people in Seattle, an increase of 37 percent from 2015, despite more than a 50 percent increase in spending on services by the council in the same period.
Lastly, we should all be shocked to learn that despite record revenues and raising taxes 12 times since 2014, the city could face a near-term budget shortfall measured in the tens of millions of dollars. It is astounding that our new mayor must ask for these budget cuts because the City Council adopted a budget beyond its means at a time when historically high sales, utility, property and business taxes are rolling into the city.
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We appreciate that council members are working in a challenging political environment and agree on the pressing need for more effective approaches to address homelessness. We urge the City Council to join the regional One Table process convened by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus and King County Executive Dow Constantine to develop a balanced approach that includes reform, efficiencies and priority programs with measurable outcomes to reduce the unsheltered homeless population in Seattle and King County.
If, through that process, it is demonstrated that more funds are needed and can be effectively spent, the business community is committed to supporting a regional effort to determine sufficient, appropriate revenue sources that are equitable, sustainable and entirely focused to address homelessness.