'Tax Amazon': Seattle passes plan for corporate wealth tax to fund housing


The legislation calls for a tax of $275 per employee, per year on for-profit companies that gross at least $20 million per year in the city - down from a $500-per-head tax that Mayor Jenny Durkan had threatened to veto.

The Seattle City Council on Monday approved a pared-down version of the "head tax" on the metro area's largest employers to fund efforts to battle homelessness despite public criticism from local businesses, including e-commerce giant Amazon.

The tax will expire after five years, requiring the council to vote on whether to renew it on 2023. She said she ultimately supported the compromise because it creates "a significant new revenue stream" to build more affordable housing. A year ago the city spent $68 million on homeless services. The task force wanted the council to use other potential progressive revenue sources to generate an additional $75 million.

The council unanimously approved the final ordinance modified by approved Amendment 24 with a 9-0 vote.

A broader tax proposal prompted the tech company to halt construction on one Seattle office tower and put off a lease of another tower.

The mayor, councilmembers and city staff spent the weekend working on a compromise that everyone could agree on. Sawant was the only councilmember to vote against cutting the per-employee cost from $500 to $275 at Monday's meeting.

Sponsors of the tax said Seattle's biggest-earning businesses should bear some burden for easing a shortage in low-priced housing that they helped create by driving up real estate prices to the point where the working poor and many middle-class families can no longer afford to live in the city.

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Shannon Brown, 55, who has been living a tiny home at a south Seattle homeless encampment, said there's simply not enough housing for the city's poorest people. There's no income or capital gains tax in Washington state, and Amazon paid no federal taxes on its income for past year.

There will also be $14.6 million in workforce stability funding over five years, providing a 4 percent raise for direct service homeless contracts.

After the Seattle City Council vote on Monday, the Transit Riders Union, which is affiliated with the Housing for All Coalition, said the new tax would begin alleviating the city's housing crisis.

"If sweeps need to stop", Sawant said, "then take a stand that sweeps need to stop".

González said she had hoped to be voting "on a different package" with more money, but "I'm glad to be able to finally move this forward".

Amazon vice president Drew Herdener said in an emailed statement that the company was disappointed by the council's decision to introduce "a tax on jobs".

Sawant brought up the fact that Amazon provided $350,000 to the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy - which is sponsored by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce - that went toward Durkan's mayoral campaign.