The tale of the Employee Head (or Hours) Tax (EHT) is a story that won’t die.
I really get lost reading about it all. Our city council appears to get lost all the time, too. Apparently there are too many “Squirrels!” always running through council chambers.
Somehow in May the council passed the EHT. Mayor Durkan signed it into law. It was supposed to be law for five years before being reconsidered. Of course a citizen referendum was started to overturn it in an election, but that was just normal Seattle process. In Seattle you can’t repair a broken window of your own house until a citizen initiative or referendum to stop you has run its course.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos objected to the law, as did other businesses, some of which would bear the burden but many of which would not. But by the time the law was passed, the tax had already been reduced to meet them part way. So we all figured that the law would be left alone until at least November. There was no rush to kill it; it could die a natural death at the ballot box.
But no. Out of the blue, the next month, councilmembers jumped ship and voted to repeal their own law without any public hearing. Just “Hey, we changed our minds, call us fickle, sorry.”
Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos was taking a lot of flack for opposing efforts to help with homelessness in this city. We suddenly woke up to find out he was now the richest man in the world — richer than Bill Gates, richer than the annual GDP of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia combined. Richer than a Saudi prince.
As we were trying to get used to that idea, it turns out Bezos was thinking all the time how he could reinvent himself as a philanthropist who was going to end homelessness after all, or something like it. And, abracadabra, he pulls $2 billion out of a hat. That money is going to be spread all over the country, Bezos said, to help homeless people and at the same time build preschools just the way he, Jeff Bezos, likes them. I don’t know, in orbit, maybe.
Bezos is currently estimated to have a net worth of more than $150 gazillion, so $2 billion is about one-and-one-third percent.
Preschools are places that preschoolers inhabit. Preschoolers are consumers in training. Do you see where I’m going with this? That $2 billion isn’t a gift — it’s a well-targeted advertising investment.
I’ve also heard speculation that Bezos might find a way to get the preschoolers to work for Amazon for even less than what adults get paid. There are ways that could happen. The preschoolers might use their nimble little hands to assemble packaging, for instance. They wouldn’t have to be paid at all — but they’d be learning a useful skill!
If the $2 billion went entirely to ease homelessness and was distributed evenly throughout the U.S., Seattle’s share would be shy of $5 million, or less than 10 percent of what the EHT would have brought in.
However, it won’t all go to help with homelessness. There will be preschools.
I really hope some preschools get built in orbit, because these are 4-year-olds we’re talking about, and kids that age today don’t get out enough. It’s probably why so many grow up to be homeless. That and the fact that their parents are poor because they work for Amazon, assembling packaging.
But all that’s just about me getting off-track, as usual. I was talking about how the EHT story won’t die.
Since there was no public hearing connected with the repeal of the law, and since there’s kind of a law or something (I don’t know — I’m just going by what more educated people have written about it) that says there’s supposed to be public hearings of some sort, some people used another law to demand information to explain what happened.
And it has turned out that our mayor and councilmember(s) had been scared by some polls that indicated (1) that the EHT was unpopular among citizens in Seattle, and (2) that they were equally unpopular. They took that poll to be all the public hearing they needed to repeal the law. Even though the polling sampled only 500 voters. Even though they could have just let the referendum to repeal go to a vote. Private polls aren’t elections and don’t substitute for public hearings.
Here’s your irony of the week: The polling was commissioned by supporters of the EHT.
Or alleged supporters, anyway.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
Check out the full Sept. 26 - Oct. 2 issue.
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