Boosters of a new Seattle tax on large corporations such as Amazon, including City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, have filed a petition to put an initiative on the ballot this year, they said Thursday.
They’re aiming for the November ballot and say the tax could raise $300 million a year, though those calculations were made before coronavirus disrupted the economy, spokeswoman Eva Metz said.
Sawant recently teamed up with Councilmember Tammy Morales to unveil legislation and start trying to push a tax through the council. But “Tax Amazon” advocates have for weeks also been meeting to discuss a potential initiative, with Sawant saying a ballot measure would be needed to exert pressure on City Hall and to serve as a backup plan.
In recent days, Sawant and Morales have suggested their tax on big businesses could initially fund coronavirus relief efforts, and Sawant has argued it should raise even more — as much as $500 million a year.
The ballot-measure campaign likely will need to collect more than 22,000 valid signatures from registered Seattle voters (10% of the votes cast for mayor in 2017) to qualify; at that point, the council could pass the initiative or let it go to the ballot.
The coronavirus crisis could complicate signature collecting; Metz said the campaign should be allowed to collect signatures online.
“Big business has long been enjoying a tax haven in Seattle and Washington State,” Sawant said in a Tax Amazon campaign news release Thursday.
“As coronavirus exposes the rotten system of capitalism, this demand is gaining incredible momentum,” she added. “But our movement is moving forward with its grassroots ballot initiative if City Council fails to enact a strong Amazon Tax.”
Matt Smith, an Amazon cargo handler involved with the initiative campaign, said the tech giant has made billions of dollars in profits while some workers at the company have struggled to pay rent.
Amazon didn’t immediately comment. In a statement, Downtown Seattle Association President Jon Scholes said: “Councilmember Sawant’s idea for a new tax right now will be as effective in helping Seattle’s economy recover as President Trump’s European travel ban was in stopping the spread of coronavirus in the U.S.”
The new initiative petition describes a tax similar to the tax outlined in the legislation that Sawant and Morales have written.
Voters would decide whether to approve a tax of 0.7% on the payroll of corporations with payrolls of at least $1.75 million a quarter. Nonprofits, government entities, cooperatives, hospitals and grocery stores would be exempted. Three-fourths of the revenue from the tax would be used to build rent-regulated housing, while one-fourth of the revenue would be used to fund “Green New Deal” programs.
In February, Sawant was charged by the executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission with violating city law by using city facilities and resources to promote the Tax Amazon potential ballot measure. She’s described the matter as a misunderstanding, but she could be fined.
The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission has been reviewing complaints that the Tax Amazon group violated state law by not registering as a political committee and reporting fundraising and spending. Registration must occur after a group has the “expectation of receiving contributions or making expenditures” in support of a ballot measure. The group has said registration wasn’t necessary because a ballot measure wasn’t yet filed.
Tax Amazon will now be registering as a political committee and will start reporting fundraising and spending, Metz said. She said that reporting would not include more than $10,000 already raised.