The executives of Seattle and King County applauded a bill that, if passed, would raise more than $120 million per year to tackle the root causes of the homelessness crisis.
The Washington House of Representatives bill 2907 and its Senate companion bill 6669 would allow counties with populations over 2 million to levy a tax on large businesses that pay their employees more than $150,000 per year. That would effectively limit the taxing authority to King County, which is the only county at present with a sizeable enough population to make the cut.
The ability to tax businesses would mean that services like housing and mental health treatment could be funded without an increase in regressive sales or property taxes that can exacerbate the affordability problem in the area, said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine in a statement.
“Because of our regressive tax code, King County has limited revenue options. This crisis demands more tools for the region outside of property and sales taxes,” the leaders wrote.
There is already opposition.
King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who represents District 9, released a statement arguing that the potential new tax amounts to a tax on jobs that would hurt “vital employers.”
“This renewed effort to tax jobs is a political zombie, stumbling back from the graveyard of bad ideas,” Dunn said. “This proposal is just Seattle’s failed head tax with a new coat of paint. The only difference is the original disincentivized job creation in Seattle and this version disincentivizes higher wages for the entire county.”
Dunn recently secured $100,000 in the King County budget for “family reunification,” a strategy to fight homelessness by sending homeless people out of the county to live with family. He originally asked for $1 million, despite the fact that All Home King County — the organization that coordinates the local homelessness response — already has a family reunification program.
Others worry that the measure won’t go far enough, and could hurt Seattle’s efforts to raise other taxes.
The bills come as Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant reignites the “Tax Amazon” campaign — an effort to raise as much as $500 million from large employers, including the eponymous online shopping behemoth. The City Council successfully passed a tax on large businesses in 2018 but repealed it a month later in the face of an initiative campaign to scrap the measure.
That tax would have raised roughly $47 million in Seattle alone — considerably less than the countywide measure, which itself is dwarfed by the still-undefined Amazon tax that Sawant is championing.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
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