Seattle council to tax Amazon and other big companies to fight homelessness


The new plan would raise an estimated $50 million a year instead of the original $75 million.

A divided Seattle City Council is expected to vote Monday on a proposal to tax large businesses to fight homelessness.

Seattle's city council on Monday approved a new tax for the city's biggest companies, including Inc., to combat a housing crisis attributed in part to a local economic boom that has driven up real estate costs at the expense of the working class. The "Bezos Boom" has proved a mixed blessing, though, as middle-income residents have been priced out of Seattle.

A proposal to tax companies $500 per employee was being considered for several weeks but, after Mayor Jenny Durkan threatened to veto it, the council voted to reduce the size of the tax. The city council would need to review the tax, which kicks in next year, after five years if the city wants to extend it. The city council president, Bruce Harrell, spoke to a growing "fear of what this city is becoming".

"It seems only fair that as so many struggle to make their way through a tax system that's rigged in favor of large corporations, that we ask those same corporations to financially contribute to the public health and housing solutions created to address those consequences", they wrote. The e-commerce giant paused construction on one of its office towers and said it is reconsidering occupying another. While the tax is in play, Amazon has put the brakes on plans for 7,000 jobs. Amazon's plans in Seattle after today's vote are not clear. But even if the tax passes tomorrow and Seattle doesn't leave town, it's possible that other companies will.

"When we start talking about changing that system that benefits some to make it more fair, there's a lot of resistance", Councilmember Mike O'Brien said during Monday's meeting. "We'll be back for more!"

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The city's homeless population is growing, behind only NY and Los Angeles. "I remain committed to a region-wide response to the homelessness crisis, and I look forward to One Table's final recommendations and tackling the work ahead". The situation became graver when Dow Constantine, the King County Executive asked everyone to reduce the pace regarding the same.

There's no danger that anyone at Amazon is going to be charged with a felony (fortunately, socialist show trials are not the norm in Seattle yet) but it does tell us something about the mindset of the people backing this tax.

But the city says homelessness is a moving target. A point-in-time count previous year tallied more than 11,600 homeless people in King County.

Seattle and King County declared a state of emergency over homelessness in 2015, but since then, cost-of-living pressures have worsened.

Some council members acknowledged it wasn't enough to address urgent housing needs but conceded they couldn't get the six votes needed to override a potential veto by the mayor. Separately, the company has committed more than $40 million to two groups: the Mary's Place shelters for homeless families, including space in company buildings; and the FareStart non-profit organization for homeless and disadvantaged men, women, and kids, including space and equipment for FareStart restaurants.