Mayor Jenny Durkan remains open to some sort of tax but says the measure should include an end date and wants to get big-business leaders on board.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is still working on a deal with City Council members pushing a new tax on large employers and with business leaders arguing the tax for subsidized housing and homeless services would be misguided, Durkan says.
In its current form, the legislation under consideration by the council “doesn’t meet the requirements I have as mayor,” she told reporters at the Westin Hotel after delivering a speech at an education-related luncheon there Wednesday.
Five of the council’s nine members are backing the proposal — a tax of about $500 per employee, per year on companies that gross at least $20 million annually in Seattle.
Proponents say the so-called head tax would raise about $75 million per year to help address the city’s lack of affordable apartments and its severe homelessness crisis.
Labor unions are split. When Amazon paused planning on a new office tower last week pending the outcome of the debate, Durkan expressed concern.
Durkan is in the middle of the debate partly because the tax needs six council supporters to override a mayoral veto. A final vote could come as soon as Monday.
The mayor remains open to some sort of tax but contends it should include a potential end date and wants to get big-business leaders on board, she now says.
“We need to say there’s a beginning and an end, we need to see it working and we need business at the table with us,” Durkan said, calling for a review after five years to determine whether the tax would still be needed.
“I’ve heard from voters over and over again … you put a tax in place and it never goes away.”
At a council committee meeting Wednesday, Councilmember M. Lorena González said she and the legislation’s co-sponsors are willing to consider imposing the tax for a set period of time and then reassessing it.
A different, smaller Seattle head tax adopted in 2006 was repealed in 2009, after the recession hit.
Durkan didn’t spell out what she thinks it would take for business leaders to tolerate a new tax. The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has vehemently opposed the idea.
But Durkan described the tax as problematic for construction workers, among others, and hinted she may want the size of the tax changed.
“We’ve got to get the size right,” the mayor said.
Union home-health, hotel and supermarket workers are advocating for the measure, while union construction workers are opposing it over worries it could slow development.
Durkan recalled promising to protect blue-collar jobs at a picnic with carpenters last summer, during her campaign for mayor.
“If Amazon’s building stays paused, we could lose hundreds of jobs just for the carpenters,” she said Wednesday.
At the committee meeting, Council President Bruce Harrell and Councilmember Debora Juarez — who haven’t signed on to the proposal — expressed interest in reducing the tax rate.
Durkan said she’s received more than 1,000 emails about the proposed tax in recent days.
“I’ve been meeting with council members, with business, with labor trying to see if there’s a way we can forge a path forward together so we can have a very vital economy here in Seattle and at the same time do more to bring people off the streets,” she said.
At the council Wednesday morning, homeless-services workers and construction workers took turns testifying for and against the tax proposal.
Members of the group Speak Out Seattle said the city should spend its money more wiselyand warned about the tax driving up grocery prices.
But outreach worker Chloe Gale compared homelessness efforts to holding an umbrella against a waterfall. More funding is needed, she said.
Iron workers trompedthrough City Hall and chanted against the tax. Councilmember Kshama Sawant plans to lead a “March on Amazon” in favor of the tax Saturday.
“The most important thing for us as a city is to show we can be different than what we see on the national scene … where they yell at each other but never listen,” Durkan said.