So Much for Compromise: Amazon-Backed Business Coalition Invests Big to Kill Head Tax

Remember when, just a couple of weeks ago, Amazon held the whole city hostage by halting plans to build one 17-story tower and threatening to sublease space it had planned to rent in another? The issue was the size of the proposed head tax to fund housing and services for some of the thousands of people living homeless in Seattle: A majority of the city council wanted the tax to be $500 per employee on every business with gross revenues of more than $20 million a year (Amazon plus nearly 600 other companies); Amazon said it couldn’t go a cent higher than $250. Over a weekend of frenzied negotiations, in which Mayor Jenny Durkan reportedly served as the conduit between Amazon and the city council, that five-member majority evaporated, and on Monday, the council voted unanimously to approve the $275 tax that Amazon supposedly wanted. Amazon resumed construction, everybody breathed a sigh of relief, and the council prepared for the next battle—a debate over how to spend the money, about $47 million a year, that the hard-won head tax would generate.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and it looks like Durkan—and the council—were in over their heads. Amazon may still be building in Seattle, but they have one foot out the door, and last week, they made their first pledge—$25,000—to the “No Tax On Jobs” referendum campaign. The campaign enjoys the backing of not just other corporate behemoths (Kroger, Starbucks, Centurylink) but a who’s who of local developers, hotel industry players, and maritime and industrial businesses. So far, the anti-tax campaign has brought in more than $352,000 in financial pledges—and that doesn’t count the free labor the companies’ anti-tax messaging has received from regular citizens who are mad at the city’s response to homelessness, who are cheerfully gathering signatures at farmers’ markets and community meetings around the city. (The dubious connection between a tax on the largest corporations and ordinary taxpayers is that if companies like Amazon are required to pay additional taxes, they will leave the city, taking all those high-paying jobs with them. The irony that many of the people who are freaked out by this scenario are the same people who stridently oppose the increased traffic and population density that all those “jobs” produce appears to be lost on many head tax proponents.)

It’s hardly surprising that Amazon is looking out for its bottom line. What is a bit surprising is that Durkan seems to have believed that her half-measure “compromise,” which was focused on Amazon and not the rest of Seattle’s politically active business community, would quell a rebellion. When former mayor Ed Murray (who resigned in disgrace after allegations that he sexually abused minors decades ago) wanted to make sure that the $15 minimum wage proposal would stick, he created an unprecedented business- and labor-led advisory committee that included representatives from the Seattle Hospitality Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and local businesses like Ivar’s and Nucor Steel along with labor and social-justice groups. Over five months, that group hammered out a deal that phased the $15 minimum wage in slowly, over seven years, with extra concessions for the small businesses that would be most impacted by the increase. By next year, workers at all but the smallest businesses in Seattle will be making a minimum of $15 an hour.

Four years ago, Seattle Hospitality Group founder Howard Wright stood beside the mayor for a photo op as he signed the legislation making $15 the law of the land. This week, he donated $25,000 to the effort to kill the head tax.

Maybe compromise is harder than it looks.

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6 thoughts on “So Much for Compromise: Amazon-Backed Business Coalition Invests Big to Kill Head Tax”

  1. Hello,

    Would the “Head Tax” have any impact on the proposal to allow RV dwellers to park for extended periods without ticketing?

    Bezos doesn’t give a damn about RV’s because they CERTAINLY would not be parking anywhere NEAR where HE lives.

    People in Seattle’s nicer neighborhoods may be affected, but the citizens who will REALLY get hit are homeowners in lower class, struggling neighborhoods.

    I grew up in White Center. I live in King County, and White Center is unincorporated. However, this proposal would certainly impact this community.

    My family has lived in White Center for almost 100 years.

    When I was a child in the 50’s and 60’s, White Center had the stigma that began during prohibition.

    Seattle was dry, but White Center was just outside the city limits, and the row of taverns and restaurants that sprang up on 16th Avenue S.W.and immediately south of Roxbury Street, the south city limit, we’re allowed to serve alcohol.

    In the 40’s, there were nightclubs, a fancy one, that Joe Desimone, from the founding family of the Pike Place Market, owned and had fresh tropical flowers flown in from Hawaii, dancing, and nightclub acts.

    That faded, but the establishments still thrived, except they became permanently inhabited by tired old drunks.

    White Center became known as shabby, white trash, and poison to any investment of legitimate businesses. And because it’s unincorporated, it is 50 years behind on ordinances that protect other citizens, and allow practices such as turning a home and yard into a horrendous junkyard, among other homes. Although modest, and often not perfect, the owners try hard to keep them up. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for upstanding citizens without the benefit of enough income or civic support, but still they persevere.

    However shabby and embarrassing it was to live in White Center, it was not a high crime area when I was a kid, and didn’t start becoming overrun with drugs, guns, and random, violent crime until the 1980s, when gangs began migrating from California.

    However, due to gentrification of SO many of Seattle”s neighborhoods, like Georgetown, White Center’s lower rent began attracting brave young entrepeneurs, and 16th S.W. now has several good restaurants, a shop that makes its own, artisan ice cream, and others.

    However, the residential areas are riddled with drugs, and even a peripheral glance tells you the person you’re passing by in your car is a severe method addict.

    We received NO help from the police several years ago when a drug addict couple parked their pickup/home across the street, and began selling meth from their truck like a McDonald’s drive-up window.

    What happens in neighborhoods like White Center, at best, is simply containment of non-violent crime. The police are not going to drive drugs out of White Center, because where would they go?

    They just keep the undesirables here, and away from the nicer neighborhoods.

    With an ordinance like the RV parking, White Center absolutely WOULD be overun, and I see all the struggle, and uplifting, recent investment and faith would be crushed by creating an instant ghetto that would have White Center down for the count.

  2. This is useful info – thank you.

    At this point – given the perceived momentum I am assuming that this will end up on the ballot.

    So – it will be interesting to see how the list of campaign contributors grow/evolve as this thing gains steam. In future updates – can you cite your source for the data? I’m wondering how often the source gets updated.

    Also wonder if there are any kind of campaign contribution limits that may apply here – of if it could be an “all-you-can-eat” PR campaign heading into the ballot…

  3. Makes you wonder who the Mayor was talking with. It sounds to me like Amazon is not a trustworthy partner in negotiations.

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