The Seattle City Council voted 7 to 2 Tuesday to repeal a tax to fund homelessness services and affordable housing that council members passed unanimously less than a month ago.
Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez, Lisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien expressed regret over the vote, but said that the opposition, funded by the very businesses that they intended to tax, had waged a campaign against the measure so effective that it could not be overcome by the public vote in November.
“My political calculus is that there is so much more to lose between today and November that will hurt the long-term fight for progressive taxation,” Herbold said.
Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Kshama Sawant voted against the repeal.
Council President Bruce Harrell initiated the process by introducing the repeal proposal at the regular City Council meeting on June 11, and then calling for a vote the following day.
In a statement signed by Harrell, six other council members and Mayor Jenny Durkan, the politicians stressed the need for a regional solution, saying that Seattle taxpayers should not bear a disproportionate burden for solving the regional homelessness crisis.
The employee hours tax (EHT), as passed, did not fall directly on taxpayers. Instead, it was an annual $275-per-employee charge on businesses that brought in $20 million and more in gross revenues.
Sawant and Mosqueda did not sign onto the group statement. Mosqueda told supporters in her own missive that she did not want to see a repeal without a replacement. Sawant took to Twitter to tell the internet that her office had not been included in negotiations to scrap the tax.
Opponents of the tax had already begun work collecting signatures to allow Seattle residents a vote on whether the tax should live or die. They described it as a “tax on jobs,” and questioned whether the City Council could be trusted with additional funds to solve the homelessness crisis, asserting that the council had spent hundreds of millions in recent years only to see the problem get worse.
The “No Tax on Jobs” campaign was heavily backed by business interests, receiving promises of more than $350,000 soon after launch.
The “Bring Seattle Home” counter movement asked voters to “decline to sign” by sending people out to argue the case for the tax, often where signature gatherers worked. It also set up a website where people who changed their minds could remove their signatures from the petition.
The issue came to a head only two weeks after All Home King County, a regional organization that coordinates the homelessness responses, released numbers showing historically high numbers of people experiencing homelessness in King County. Volunteers who went out between 2 and 6 a.m. one night in January found 6,320 people sleeping unsheltered, the first time that the number of unsheltered people has exceeded the number of people in emergency shelters and transitional housing.
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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