Few people would argue that the Employee Hours Tax, passed 9-0 by the Seattle City Council and signed into law by Mayor Jenny Durkan last month, was a perfect piece of legislation. But these are not perfect times.
The federal government is a kleptocracy that hates the poor a little more every day. Washington is a limping, cash-starved beast. And Seattle, well, in Seattle it is the best of times and the worst of times.
A funny thing happens when you Google “Seattle billionaires.” In 2012, according to Forbes, we had just eight. By 2015, we picked up another four. This year, the list of billionaires who call Washington state home rose to 14.
What draws them? Is it the beauty of Puget Sound? Our majestic mountain ranges and lush rain forests?
No. One rich guy’s waterfront compound looks pretty much like the next, and they can travel to exotic locales whenever they like. They own yachts and planes and helicopters. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Microsoft’s Paul Allen even have their own space programs.
In fact, the rich are doing so well that space tourism is now a thing. Elon Musk hopes to fly people to the moon as early as next year. Bigelow Aerospace, run by yet another billionaire, will open a space hotel in 2021.
“Space. Have you been?”
No. It’s not the beauty. As one of just seven states with no income tax, Washington is ranked dead last in 50 for tax fairness.
RELATED ARTICLE: 'Progressive' Washington has the most regressive taxes in the country
The other thing that Bezos and Allen have in common, other than their love of rocketry, is their passion for keeping taxes regressive. Each threw down $100,000 several years ago to defeat a state tax on the wealthy. Buying democracy costs less than a ticket to the moon.
Buying democracy costs less than a ticket to the moon
If there’s anything that unites Americans across class, it is the belief that taxes are bad, and the willingness to believe poor people suffer because they deserve it.
The past month’s tax revolt was ugly in the extreme.
When the mayor signed an employee tax on the top 3 percent of Seattle businesses, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and their allies were ready. Within a day, $350,000 was raised to fund a repeal initiative. Seattle, they said, had lost its ever-loving mind.
Our beloved Dick’s hamburgers would become unaffordable.
The poor would descend on Seattle like iron filings to a magnet, bringing their mental illness and drug addiction with them.
Amazon, which occupies one in five Seattle office spaces and has colonized South Lake Union, would flee for the likes of Tennessee, leaving Bezos’ balls behind as a farewell gift.
Our levies would fail. Our city would crumble. All our beautiful prosperity would be gone.
That’s the kind of prosperity that kills, because the rent is always going up, and too many of us are going down.
If you think that any — and I mean any — local tax on the rich would not bring the same hysterical and well-funded response from the Seattle Chamber and their allies, I have a ticket to the moon to sell you.
Addressing the radical inequality that creates misery and homelessness is a matter of political courage. And for about 10 minutes, our mayor and City Council showed that.
Addressing the radical inequality that creates misery and homelessness is a matter of political courage
But when the anti-tax crowd got out their baseball bats, did the mayor defend her decision? Did she set the record straight on the Seattle’s use of housing and human service dollars? Did she stand on her values?
No. She did none of that. Instead, she and the majority of City Council just caved, like a cheap tent in a windstorm. It was a shameful display.
This we know: Unless we find the courage to curb corrosive inequality, our democracy will die. The class war that defines America in 2018 will become more visible on our streets, and the poor will be blamed for the mess.
There’s plenty more ugly where this came from.
The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice only when we pull together. We better pull harder.
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace.
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