Taxing in the Name Of: Seattle Head Tax Repealed

Taxing in the Name Of: Seattle "Head Tax" Approved

Back in May the Seattle City Council unanimously passed the “head tax” under the auspices of raising funds for the homeless and to ease the city’s affordable housing crisis. But in the face of opposition from Seattle’s largest businesses, and a certain legal challenge to the law itself, the council has reversed themselves.

NBC News:

Seattle’s city council voted on Tuesday to repeal a newly enacted “head tax” imposed on the city’s largest companies, including Amazon.com, in the face of apparently insurmountable big-business opposition to a tax meant to fight an affordable housing crisis.

The 7-2 vote in favor of repeal capped an acrimonious public hearing interrupted by chanting supporters of the tax. It came as momentum was building for a referendum drive against the measure, just weeks after it was unanimously adopted by the council and signed by the mayor.

“This is a cowardly betrayal of the needs of the working people,” Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, a leading proponent of the tax who voted against repeal, said to thunderous applause moments before the council completed its vote.
But Councilwoman Lisa Herbold said she was reluctantly voting for repeal rather than drag the city through a political fight she called “not winnable at this particular time.”

“The opposition has unlimited resources,” she added.

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat was not impressed by the council’s deliberations before, during, or after the vote:

Some on the council blamed “big business,” which was predictable. A few called out Amazon in particular. Kshama Sawant got the most personal about this, as is her specialty, bluntly declaring that, “Jeff Bezos is our enemy.”

Other council members insisted with great passion, voices rising in anger, that the city is in fact doing a great job on housing the homeless, and so has simply been misunderstood.

But most jarring, to me, was that they blamed you. Yeah, you, the witless public.

“The Chamber of Commerce has convinced the vast majority of Seattleites of the old, conservative trope, that the increased level of human suffering in this city is caused by government inefficiency,” railed Councilmember Lisa Herbold.

She added she had pushed for a head tax on Seattle companies in 2016, 2017 and now again in 2018, and seemed perplexed that none of these three efforts worked.

Possible simple explanation: Maybe it’s just not a good idea?

The notion that the famously liberal and generous Seattle public is now a rabble of dupes easily wowed by anti-government propaganda ­– now that’s some world-class political blame-shifting! More likely, I bet, is that Seattleites came to feel that high levels of taxation directly on jobs, of all things, might not be the smartest.

A living example of this was right in council chambers on Tuesday. Had this fight just been about evil Amazon, who knows, the head tax might have prevailed. A bigger problem was the “Uwajimaya Effect.”

“I’m with Uwajimaya – not Amazon, Uwajimaya,” Denise Moriguchi, chief executive of the beloved Japanese grocery, pointedly began her testimony Tuesday. “We’ve been employing people in the Pacific Northwest for 90 years, and the head tax is not the right answer.”

Game over right there. Why in the world would you tax grocery stores, anyway? The council never had an answer for that.

Still others where far less concerned about the monetary and taxation problems and focused on what they saw as a “betrayal” of social responsibility:

CBS News:

City leaders underestimated the frustration and anger from residents, businesses and others over not just a tax increase but also a growing sense that homelessness appears to have gotten worse, not better, despite Seattle spending millions to fight it. It poured $68 million into the effort last year and plans to spend more this year. The tax would have raised roughly $48 million annually.

But a one-night count in January found more than 12,000 homeless people in Seattle and the surrounding region, a 4 percent increase from the previous year. The region saw 169 homeless deaths in 2017.

Many supporters called the repeal a betrayal and said the tax was a step toward building badly needed affordable housing. They booed council members, imploring them to keep it and fight a coalition of businesses trying to get a referendum overturning the tax on the November ballot.

Several leaders, including three who sponsored the legislation but voted to repeal it, lamented the reversal and conceded they didn’t have the resources to fight the referendum.

Councilwoman Lisa Herbold said it “was truly our best option” and that she repealed it with a heavy heart. She lashed out at business interests for blaming the problems on government inefficiencies.

“Gutless!” someone shouted as she explained her rationale. She and others said they didn’t want to spend the next several months in a political fight that would do nothing to address urgent needs.

Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda voted against the repeal, saying the lack of a replacement strategy would mean more months of inaction.

“It was not a tax on jobs,” she said, calling it “a much needed down payment to our housing crisis.”

Whatever your opinion on the tax itself, the one thing that was very clear was a long and protracted fight over the head tax was coming. Lead by Amazon, Starbucks, and the other corporations that felt targeted by the ordinance, many were pushing for a ballot initiative prior to the repeal vote.

Amazon.com, the city’s largest employer, was at the forefront of a coalition of businesses running a well-financed campaign to place a repeal referendum on the ballot for the November elections.

The tax would have applied only to the city’s largest companies by revenue, those grossing at least $20 million a year. It was expected to be borne by about 500 companies.

Opponents had already collected nearly 49,000 signatures from voters in support of a repeal initiative, well more than the 17,000 needed to qualify for the ballot, according to the Downtown Seattle Association, a business group which led the petition drive.

The effort quickly raised $300,000, including contributions of $25,000 each from Amazon and coffee retailer Starbucks , another major Seattle stalwart, and $30,000 from a grocers trade group, said Jon Scholes, president of the Seattle Association.

As for where the head tax drama goes from here, Danny Westneat offered this suggestion the Seattle City Council:

For starters, I would humbly suggest turning what you just did upside down. Come up with a detailed plan to help the homeless. Get buy-in on that, and then ask for money. That formula has a strong track record with voters in this city.

With a similar measure up for a vote in Mountain View, California to see if Google’s hometown will install a head tax of its own:

It remains to be seen whether Seattle’s retreat will have a chilling effect on other cities considering taxes on big tech companies to help mitigate the effects of growth.

The City Council in Mountain View, California, where Google is based, will vote June 26 on whether to put a similar measure before voters in November. The “Google tax” aims to alleviate transportation woes and high housing costs in the Silicon Valley city south of San Francisco.

Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel said Seattle’s about-face hasn’t changed his support for the tax.

“It appears that we have a better relationship with our business than Seattle does,” Siegel said.

He said Google hasn’t taken a position on the proposal and that no “groundswell” of opposition has materialized from the Internet search giant and other companies.

No matter what happens, the debate on corporate taxation and how municipalities use that revenue rages on.

What say you? Login and comment.


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Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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33 thoughts on “Taxing in the Name Of: Seattle Head Tax Repealed

  1. I went to college at UW in Seattle. I have lived in Mountain View for 26 years, moving to next door Los Altos last summer.

    These are very different places, and have very different relationships with business. Mountain View was not afraid to shoot down Google’s plans to build residences for its employees adjacent to its corporate buildings, and that attitude carries over. Meanwhile, lots of residents of MV are Google employees. A strong plurality, and possibly a majority.

    Mountain View has to contend with Prop 13, and so passage of this measure, like any other tax, probably requires a supermajority.

    Policy-wise, my primary concerns for things like this are two-fold: What is the money to be used for? and is the tax equitable?

    I’m ok with a progressive tax. I think there’s still a concept of an “equitable” tax that’s progressive.

    The Seattle stance of “homeless” has always struck me as sort of a political smokescreen, a proxy for issues that the speakers would rather not admit to: Skyrocketing home prices and horrifyingly bad traffic, for instance.

    Whereas the piece Andrew linked about MV says that the city would use the money to alleviate traffic and high housing costs. I’m not sure how you do the second, to be honest.

    And issues of fairness are far more in play in Seattle, where the tax would fall on firms like Uwajimaya (I’ve been there, it’s awesome!) as well as Amazon. In Mountain View, the next biggest employers are LinkedIn and Microsoft.

    Still, if it gets on the ballot, I would expect a spirited discussion.

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  2. Usually when a tax is levied against something specific it is because it is either bad (cigarettes, soda) or it is a luxury (expensive cars, etc). The logic is that it will discourage purchasing the item, in the first case, or that the items are nonessential. Items that essential, such as food, are typically exempt from taxation.

    Given the usual logic behind taxes, why would those in charge of the city think it is a good idea to tax employment? This is not like many employment taxes, such as SSI that theoretically benefit the employee. This is taking money to benefit an unrelated group. Not only that, since the purpose of tax is to fight homelessness, that tax is on one of the very activities that fights against homelessness: providing employment. A tax based on the number of employees will discourage hiring new employees.

    “This is a cowardly betrayal of the needs of the working people,” Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, a leading proponent of the tax who voted against repeal, said to thunderous applause moments before the council completed its vote.

    Really? How does this tax benefit the working people?

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    • I think that if you are a Seattle resident, more jobs at Amazon is a thing you don’t want, and so you tax it to get less of it. There’s no failure of logic here. As long as you are willing, like I am, to be a bit cynical about the stated purpose of “reducing homelessness”.

      I mean, I’m sure they want to do that, I just don’t see what the program is that will do that. Yeah, you can do things like shelters, and that will be good.

      And I see what has happened to traffic and home prices in Seattle, and it’s unpleasant. Home prices are not as high as here in the Bay Area, but maybe the slope is steeper, and that causes more problems. And I know that Amazon is routinely scapegoated and blamed for these problems.

      They are very, very anti-growth there at the moment. I find it amusing at one level, since being resistant to change is a small “c” conservative thing.

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      • I think that if you are a Seattle resident, more jobs at Amazon is a thing you don’t want, and so you tax it to get less of it.

        Then they should have been happy when Amazon suggested they might relocate as a result of this tax.

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        • It’s not impossible that there might be a disconnect between Seattle residents and the people responsible for rescinding the tax.

          I didn’t catch his name, but someone who described himself as "a father, a veteran, and an anarchist” just addressed the Seattle City Council with the words "what up bootlickers" What a legend— Bryan Menegus (@BryanDisagrees) June 12, 2018

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              • It’s not like Amazon came in and told the council to repeal it. Instead, they went out and got enough (almost 3x as many) signatures to put the issue on the ballot in about a week.

                That’s a pretty strong signal from the electorate. So if they are licking boots, it’s not Amazons.

                *Although 17K signatures is not a lot in a city of ~700K.

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                • That’s a pretty strong signal from the electorate. So if they are licking boots, it’s not Amazons.

                  Not to disagree with you about how the electorate feels, because I really have no idea. And it doesn’t seem anyone has done any polling yet.

                  But if you throw enough money at petition gathering companies (And Amazon has near infinite money to throw around), you can get enough signatures for almost anything to get on the ballot.

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                  • Made the city council flinch.

                    Thing is, I’ve listened to local interviews from business leaders, and there was support for a tax (revenue, or property) or other partnership between business and the city for addressing homelessness (Amazon runs a homeless shelter with 200 beds on it’s campus), but no one thought the head tax itself was a good idea.

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                • *Although 17K signatures is not a lot in a city of ~700K.

                  17k in a week? I assume this process normally takes many months and generates far fewer than that. I don’t live there but locally I think they’re given a year.

                  2.5% times 52 is 130% of the population, which is less than the electorate. Obviously support is less than 100% but whatever. These are strong signals of the will of the people, maybe even the upcoming political Wrath of God.

                  The council is backing down while they can.

                  And yeah, I get that Amazon may be throwing money at this and so the math is heavily distorted, but the council is presumably used to seeing this process take many months, not days.

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    • Given the usual logic behind taxes, why would those in charge of the city think it is a good idea to tax employment?

      Uh, because the massive increase in population, which was driven by employment, has caused huge problems for Seattle? Thus reducing employment would help?

      Seattle isn’t exactly wrong with their logic. They actually have correctly identified what is wrong: Seattle does not have enough housing and roads and everything to accommodate the corporations that have recently moved there, or more specifically the population that has moved there to work for those corporations.

      The problem is that such the truth has short-circuited the ‘Jobs jobs jobs’ trigger in people’s brains. Surely _jobs_ can’t be a bad thing. Creating jobs is always a good thing, right?

      But these companies didn’t ‘create jobs’, as in, have opening for current residents. They mostly brought in outside residents, filing up the jobs they had ‘created’. The job creation was mostly pointless for Seatle, and meanwhile the extremely rapid growth it sucked up city infrastructure and housing.

      It ended up being less ‘creating jobs’ and more ‘adding population’. Granted, they are at least a _well-paid_ population, which helps city services and boasts the rest of the economy, but that money isn’t instantly going to create housing out of thin air, and indeed it just means they can outbid existing residents for housing!

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      • This is not true. Most of the companies that would be impacted by a head tax were started in Seattle, or largely grew in Seattle, and thus have always relied heavily of the local talent pool (as opposed to just bringing in people from outside the region). As the companies have grown, and their workforce has grown, they have attracted more people to move to the region to compete for those jobs (as well as relocating folks because the local pool was not able to fill vacancies – not the preferred way to do it, BTW, relo packages are expensive).

        No, the problem with Seattle is a nasty case of NIMBY-ism among the residents, who resist every effort to increase the density of the city (because of property values and traffic, etc.) while at the same time demanding that the local government increase density somewhere else in the city.

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        • I don’t think that what you are saying – “Amazon was founded in Seattle” contradicts what is saying – “Lots of workers came here from somewhere else”.

          Amazon could hire every CS graduate from UW and SeattleU and even Seattle Pacific regardless of caliber, and it wouldn’t be enough to feed that hungry beast.

          It’s interesting, though. Microsoft also recruited globally, but somehow that didn’t have the same impact. Maybe it’s because they were in Redmond, and that means the impact on traffic and housing was very, very different because of geography.

          As it stands, they have global ambitions, so they recruit globally. Which brings in a lot of people from outside, very quickly. That has an impact.

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          • It’s interesting, though. Microsoft also recruited globally, but somehow that didn’t have the same impact. Maybe it’s because they were in Redmond, and that means the impact on traffic and housing was very, very different because of geography.

            Point in time may also matter. I’m more familiar with Denver, another western city with growth rates comparable to Seattle’s. Denver is essentially “landlocked”, unable to grow beyond its existing boundaries except for really rare circumstances; I believe the same is true for Seattle. Adding 100K people in 1990, when the city was at 470K is a quite different thing than adding 100K now that the city has reached 680K (Seattle’s numbers were 516K in 1990, 684K now). If Amazon were to choose Denver — the city, not the metro area — for its HQ2, with maybe 100K population growth after multipliers, it’s going to take considerably more thought than it would have taken 25 years ago.

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        • Most of the companies that would be impacted by a head tax were started in Seattle, or largely grew in Seattle, and thus have always relied heavily of the local talent pool (as opposed to just bringing in people from outside the region).

          Why do you think ‘started in Seattle’ results in ‘thus have always relied heavily of the local talent pool’? How does one logically follow from the other?

          If you want to assert the population boom in high tech workers is being caused by local companies instead of companies relocating there, fine, but I don’t see how that alters the point of what I said.

          As the companies have grown, and their workforce has grown, they have attracted more people to move to the region to compete for those jobs

          ….and apparently you agree with me. The tech boom is causing a large number of new people to move in.

          No, the problem with Seattle is a nasty case of NIMBY-ism among the residents, who resist every effort to increase the density of the city (because of property values and traffic, etc.) while at the same time demanding that the local government increase density somewhere else in the city.

          Well, then, if the entire city doesn’t want new population near them, instead of trying to NIMBY things to some other location in the city, they could come up with a way to reduce the number of people moving to the entire thing. Like tax people for working there in an attempt to reduce the total population. Has anyone tried that?

          Look, I think the problems in Seattle are really damn stupid and their own fault. But the residents of the city do have some sort of control over how a city changes and grows, and if they do not like how their city is changing and growing, they have a right to put things in place to restrict that.

          And it’s kinda silly to complain about NIMBYism when Seattle just tried to do something that _isn’t_ NIMBYism for once to deal with the problem. Instead of ‘Everyone should build housing over there, no, over there, no, over there’, the city government said ‘Maybe we simply don’t need this many people at all’.

          What do you think should happen? Some area should win the NIMBY battle and get new housing made elsewhere in the city?

          Or Seattle should just get rid of all the zoning, period, which a) isn’t going to happen, b) wouldn’t solve the problem until years later, and c) compounds all the other problem of explosive growth, like traffic and schools.

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          • And it’s kinda silly to complain about NIMBYism when Seattle just tried to do something that _isn’t_ NIMBYism for once to deal with the problem. Instead of ‘Everyone should build housing over there, no, over there, no, over there’, the city government said ‘Maybe we simply don’t need this many people at all’.

            “Don’t you dare come here” is a favor of NIMBY.

            More importantly, “let’s raise money and then figure out a way to spend it” is basically a guarantee that the money won’t be well spent, or maybe that what it’s actually going to be spent on is unrelated to the marketing.

            On the subject of “marketing a tax increase unrelated to the problem”, it turns out Seattle’s pension funds are doing pretty bad and their costs are rising.

            https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/seattles-retirement-fund-was-mismanaged-now-taxpayers-are-paying-the-price/

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            • “Don’t you dare come here” is a favor of NIMBY.

              That isn’t what NIMBY means. NIMBY is stuff that everyone agrees should happen, everyone just wants it to not happen right next to them, but rather somewhere else.

              Seattle doesn’t want increased population growth to happen inside Seattle, but I see absolutely no evidence they are demanding increased population _elsewhere_.

              And, on top of that, other places seem fine with it. If cities are saying ‘If you don’t want the Amazon HQ and all the people they employ, we’ll take it’, that’s automatically not NIMBY-ism.

              More importantly, “let’s raise money and then figure out a way to spend it” is basically a guarantee that the money won’t be well spent, or maybe that what it’s actually going to be spent on is unrelated to the marketing.

              I wasn’t addressing what the tax is for, or saying if it was a good idea. I was just taking issue with Reformed Republican’s apparent confusion about ‘taxes should be put on things governments don’t like, so why would Seattle tax employment?’ by pointing out that Seattle actually _does_ dislike ’employment’, because that very employment that has caused large amount of people to move to the city, and that is basically the cause of their problems to start with, because they do not have enough housing and infrastructure to add 3% people a year or whatever their absurd rate of growth is.

              And they feel that attempting to support that rate of growth will permanently alter their city. Which is where NIMBY-ism could come into things, if parts of the city demanded that _other_ parts change to higher density housing so they didn’t have to…but so far they’ve managed to hold together united. What they are doing, trying to solve the problem at the city level instead of each district trying to stab each other in the back, is literally the opposite of NIMBY, which is why it’s annoying to me that people think it is NIMBY for some reason.

              So as Seattle would rather have less of a rate of growth, instead of changing their entire city or forcing change on part of it (Or instead of having an unmanageable homeless and housing crisis.), it is entirely reasonable to tax the thing causing that rate of growth….employment.

              They probably shouldn’t pretend the tax is anything to do with the homeless, though. If their actual goal is ‘we want fewer high tech workers moving to this city because we’ve already basically sold half our houses to the ones who already moved here and current demand doesn’t show any sign of stopping and we’re already out of houses’, then they should admit it.

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          • Let’s review what happened:

            1) City does everything it can to be a major tech center. Even gives Amazon green light to conduct serious urban redevelopment in a part of the city that really needs it (South Lake Union).
            2) Citizens and government rejoice at the success of 1). Everyone is actually feeling a bit hurt when Amazon announces HQ2 and declines to locate it in Seattle.
            3) City has major homeless problem[1] and cost of living issues.
            4) City decides to tax the number of employees of large employers (read: Amazon).
            5) Amazon decides to put on hold it’s decision to expand the SLU campus.
            6) Liberals and government throw screaming fit about how Amazon is trying to hold the city hostage over the tax, yadda yadda.

            Based on this behavior, the people and the government of Seattle WANT those jobs, and that development, in Seattle. They just want those new people to live somewhere else and commute in, or something (actually, they don’t, because traffic – and transit hereabouts is a joke because every proposed line is met with opposition).

            If your theory was correct, people would have rejoiced at 5). They didn’t, they threw a fit that Amazon would take those jobs elsewhere. They got pissed when Tacoma started offering $275/head for any job created in Tacoma.

            They wanted the tax money, they didn’t want the jobs to leave town and reduce population pressure.

            [1] mostly due to drug abuse, but there are some sober people who are employed and actually displaced and the lack of decent transit to cheaper areas has put such folks in a bind.

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            • Your premise seems to both require people to be rational when voting, and people to vote as a monolith.

              It is entirely possible to hate the new people coming in, and yet somehow be in favor of the added jobs’. Because people are dumb. (As you point out with their nonsensical positions on traffic and mass transit, where apparently they’re just going to wish for free teleporters in everyone’s houses.)

              It is also possible that there is a group of people who like the high housing prices, specifically, current homeowners, and there is a group of people who do not, specifically, current renters.

              Likewise, it is possible that, with many new tech workers having come in already, that they are now a voting block and want to do what is in their percieved best interest, aka, expand the companies, whereas previous residents are less in favor of that.

              I don’t think a disjointed reaction by the citizens disproves what I said at all. I just think it proves the city council tried to please one group(s) of people by putting a tax on a thing it saw as a negative, or at least being done in excess…and another group(s) reacted because they see that thing as a positive.

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              • It proves a segment wants X, not a majority.

                And yes, the council gambled and lost. They even publicly admitted that they have no clue how to deal with the homeless population, and that they were basically hoping the revenue would open up some options (but they had no idea what those options would be, beyond ‘create affordable housing’).

                And this is what it boils down to, they don’t have a plan beyond some handy buzzwords and platitudes. They don’t want to pay the price of rezoning, they apparently don’t want to use the vast tracts of underutilized city property to develop affordable housing[1], and they have no idea how to deal with the primary driver of homelessness, substance abuse [2]. If they had come to the table with a plan, people might have been more open to the idea of a tax.

                [1] To be fair, the reasons for this have more to do with laws and bureaucratic tugs of war than it does unwillingness, but I don’t see the council trying to untangle that morass either.

                [2] If you can’t hold down a job or you are spending all your money on drugs, even affordable housing will be beyond your reach. Gotta get those folks into shelters and get them sober before you can get them productive again.

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    • This notion of “taxing what you want less of” sounds superficially correct, but is premised on a shaky understanding of what taxes are and why they exist.

      “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization” isn’t just some clever quip- it is literally true.
      Taxes are the price the city charges in exchange for the services it renders.

      Taxing what you want less of is rooted in the idea that the purpose of taxes is to punish and control behavior, rather than raise revenue.

      And like in the business world, how much is charged to each customer is a highly variable question.
      Large companies often want to be the “anchor tenant” of a city, where the externalities they bring are enough to allow them a privileged position.
      But in a lot of cases, this just isn’t true, or at least not nearly to the degree they wish.

      Especially with tech companies, which really don’t generate a lot of jobs compared to their revenue. Google is larger than GM at their peak, yet employs a fraction of the people.

      And just like in business, not all customers get treated the same. Often businesses charge their customers based on willingness and ability to pay, rather than cost plus markup.

      And finally, this threat to relocate if you do This One Thing seems to prove the opposite of its claim.
      If the relationship between Amazon and the city was so fragile, so precarious that a trifling tax was enough to divorce and relocate, then the relationship was doomed anyway.

      Because, just like in a rocky marriage, there would inevitably be some other event, a garbage strike, a spike in crime, a power outage or whatever that would be the triggering event.

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      • This notion of “taxing what you want less of” sounds superficially correct, but is premised on a shaky understanding of what taxes are and why they exist.

        I understand that not all taxes are for the purpose of influencing behavior. However, the logic behind “taxing what you want less of” is that, if you make something more expensive, people will buy less of it. If the goal is revenue, it seems illogical to tax jobs, which are generally something you want more of. Even if the purpose is not to affect behavior, the tax would still have an effect.

        After digging, I suspect the real purpose of this tax is to get around the inability to have a progressive income tax, and the bad optics of having a flat income tax.

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  3. For starters, I would humbly suggest turning what you just did upside down. Come up with a detailed plan to help the homeless. Get buy-in on that, and then ask for money. That formula has a strong track record with voters in this city.

    Seeing as how the majority of the homeless in Seattle are also suffering under the opiate epidemic, it’s not enough to just provide housing. You gotta have a plan for how to get these people sober, and that has to include a plan B for the people who really don’t want to get sober yet.

    Seattle just wanted a fatter bank account without any kind of accountability for how it would be spent (as evidenced by the vagueness of the plans they had).

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    • This is pretty much how I read the situation as well. “homeless” with the vagueness they were using could be attached to just about any city service or program they wanted. There are hundreds of reasons for someone to be homeless, many of which can be overlapping at the same time. But I think this was much more reflexive going to the “big corporation ATM” than the actual cause of the homeless. I doubt this ends here, the search for revenue is never ending.

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    • Well, I think I’m willing to be a bit less conclusive than “Seattle just wanted a fatter bank account…” They probably do want to do something about homelessness. I think it’s sincere.

      But what’s going on is that they are channelling a bunch of anti-growth, anti-Amazon sentiment in their voters.

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      • Speaking personally, as a Seattle voter, in this past Mayor’s race, I had no real dog in the fight and honestly thought all of the serious candidates were fine. Now, I’m 100% for voting against anybody who voted for the repeal of the Head Tax.

        And I’m the moderate in many political conversations.

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      • The problem is the city council is between a rock and a hard place. What they NEED to do, what everyone is telling them to do, is to reform the single family zoning to allow for density. The problem is, those people in the SFH zones don’t want their neighborhoods rezoned because they don’t want to live among tall buildings, or deal with increased traffic, or have property values impacted, or they just flat out like their neighborhoods character and don’t want it to change [1]. The middle class and above residents apply financial pressure to the council to keep them from rezoning Magnolia, and if the council decides to rezone the lower income neighborhoods like Rainier, the local news will be happy to give every activist a microphone to talk about gentrification, or the destruction of neighborhoods, etc.

        So they punted and gambled that the largely liberal population would be sufficiently hostile or apathetic about corporations to support a new tax. You can see this in the rhetoric blaming the big companies for the homeless issue, rather than the residents who greedily drive up costs by encouraging bidding wars on real estate and resist anything that could impact their ability to sell for the maximum amount possible; or on whoever you want to blame for the opiate crisis.

        All the extra tax money in the world won’t get them out of that catch-22, unless they figure they can use it to bribe constituencies to shut-up (and hoo-boy doesn’t that have it’s own set of problems). They are just going to have to take the political hits and start rezoning, and the residents are going to have to suck it up.

        Where I would start is transit lines. If you live within, say, a half mile of a light rail line/stop, or a transit center, you are automatically rezoned for density. Being close to transit like that alleviates a lot of the need for cars, or at least allows for your car to be kept in a central garage. They can also do smart things like requiring 5% or 10% of all new construction to include low income housing (and personally I wouldn’t allow a developer to pay their way out of that, unless the city is going to start building public housing).

        None of that requires a large injection of new revenue.

        [1] yes, individual neighborhoods are holding the city hostage, just like Amazon was holding the city hostage when it decided it might not want to build another facility downtown – see the comments from Chip & Jesse the last time we talked about the head tax.

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        • This is totally correct, and yeah it doesn’t require a large injection of new revenue but it does require a large amount of political spine and also a willingness to accept that you have high odds of losing your elected job. Your successor would then not undo your work and would instead merely placate the masses with pablum until your policies paid off but that’d be cold comfort to you.

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  4. Seattle just isn’t able to draw a straight line between spending on the homeless in a city and the reduction of homelessness in that city in the same way you can between, for example, food stamps and hunger.

    More than likely, all those cities and towns that “solve” their own homelessness problems with bus tickets will just buy them to Seattle instead of Santa Monica. It’s a collective action problem.

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