by Kamna Shastri
Seattle Council members Kshama Sawant (District 3 – Central Seattle) and Tammy Morales (District 2 – South Seattle and Chinatown International District) announced on Wednesday that they are co-sponsoring legislation for a Big Business Tax.
The legislation is a near déjà vu of 2018’s proposed “Head Tax” which would tax large corporations in the city and use tax revenue to fund affordable housing. The tax was passed and then later repealed by city council after Amazon threatened to leave Seattle and halt new construction efforts that summer.
The new Amazon Tax is another attempt to hold the wealthiest corporations in the city accountable for economic inequity. The Amazon Tax would fund affordable housing, services, and support sustainable, environmentally friendly building methods.
Sawant and Morales revealed their funding and tax revenue plans at Wednesday’s press conference. The wealthiest 3% of companies (roughly eight hundred companies) in Seattle would be required to pay a tax of 0.7% on payrolls exceeded $7 million yearly. The councilmembers strongly emphasized that small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and grocery stores were exempt from the tax.
Seattle’s homelessness crises and lack of affordability for working class families lies at the heart of pushing another big business tax nearly two years after a Head Tax was passed and repealed by city council, according to Morales.
“There is a deep frustration with our communities being hollowed out by displacement”, said Morales at Wednesday’s press conference.
She pointed to the Chinatown International District, a neighborhood that houses and supports low-income immigrants and elders. Housing and long standing businesses are being priced out in the transportation hub.
“Together with our colleagues we’re going to reject a scarcity mentality that asks little of the wealthy while withholding resources from those who need it most,” she said.
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What the legislation would fund:
Altogether, the tax would generate $300 million dollars a year beginning in 2021. The proposed legislation would put 75% of taxes towards social services and building 8,000 new affordable homes in the next ten years, according to a press release from the City. The remaining 25% would be spent upgrading existing homes to meet Green New Deal standards, including upgrading to renewable energy sources and more energy efficient weather-proofing methods, and transitioning energy usage in homes that use natural gas heating to electricity.
The new housing units would be built based on community guidelines. Hiring local workers would be a priority, and there would be room for apprenticeship programs and opportunities as well. These new homes would also be built in accordance with Green New Deal standards.
Details about how the legislation would move forward are still in the works. Councilmember Sawant said that they want to make sure to get community-wide input during the process of creating and presenting legislation. Housing and services will target areas “where the need is most dire,” said Sawant.
Morales emphasized how important it is for people who are most affected by the affordability crisis to be at the decision-making table along with legislators. Displacement in Seattle has affected low-income families, and many Black and Brown communities who are being pushed farther and farther south.
Resisting corporate influence in the social and public sphere
The Big Business tax proposal would raise $300 million and follows the lead of a similar measure in San Francisco that was passed by voters in 2018. While Seattle’s 2018 Head Tax faced opposition from corporate leadership from giants like Amazon, Salesforce billionaire Mark Bainoff poured millions of dollars into the campaign to support the tax in San Francisco, also called the “Our City, Our Home” initiative.
Morales said that Seattle is one of many cities in the nation concerned about how corporate influence in the public and social sector can influence public policy and tax policies.
Sawant pointed to the strong opposition that Amazon tax might receive, especially as big businesses look to the state legislature to bar the ability of cities like Seattle to enact such tax laws on large businesses.
“Until now, power has rested in too few hands in the city,” said Morales. “Power brokers have set the rules for how our city functions, and then they turn around and blame poor people, working families, Black and Brown families for making poor choices in a system that was set up to keep Black and Brown families down.”
After Morales and Sawant presented the proposal, they welcomed other guests to speak on behalf of the Big Business Tax. Amongst the speakers was Senior Pastor of Bethany United Church of Christ, Angela Ying. Ying put the issue of the Big Business tax in terms of the values of love and justice.
“Those who lead the people need to love the people,” said Ying, calling out the devastating consequences of Washington’s regressive tax system which has resulted in the gaping chasm between the wealthy and working classes that has been the impetus for the Amazon tax. Quoting a well-known phrase from Dr. Cornel West, Ying commented that “justice is what love looks like public.”
Kamna Shastri is a writer and media maker from Seattle. Few things are more wonderful to her than learning about the histories, inspirations and dreams of the people with whom she crosses paths. Good conversation, a cup of spicy chai, and music are all she needs to make her world go around. Read more of her work at kamnashastri.wordpress.com.