Seattle tax showdown with Amazon coming to a head

Seattle City Councilmembers debate dueling head-tax proposals on Friday May 11

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a tax on large employers Monday that will aid the city's homeless residents - but not before slashing the proposal almost in half over opposition from Amazon, which is headquartered in Seattle, and a veto threat from Mayor Jenny Durkan.

A watered-down version of the tax, which will charge the city's largest employees $275-per-worker annually, is now expected to be enacted by Seattle's mayor, Jenny Durkan.

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Mr. Hederner, the Amazon vice president, said sharp increases in the city of Seattle's revenues have outpaced the population growth of the city during the same period.

She had offered an amendment to essentially cut the original $75 million tax proposal in half, but her proposal was rejected last Friday.

The compromise approval - even without a ban on so-called "sweeps" and far from the originally proposed $500 per employee mark, let alone Sawant's bid for $1,000 - also yielded a major victory to the Socialist Alternative leader and activists calling for large companies to do more to address social issues in the cities in which they do business.

Amazon has driven Seattle's economy in recent years, drawing thousands of well-paid workers to the region.

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"This is the richest city in the state and in a state that has the most regressive tax system in the country", said council member Teresa Mosqueda, who supported a larger tax but called the plan "a down payment" to build housing the city needs. It would raise an estimated $44.7 million a year and expire after five years, according to the Council. King County, which includes Seattle, recorded a record 169 homeless deaths past year.

With more than 45,000 employees in the city, Amazon could pay more than $10 million alone.

"I can confirm that pending the outcome of the head-tax vote by City Council, Amazon has paused all construction planning on our Block 18 project in downtown Seattle and is evaluating options to sub-lease all space in our recently leased Rainer Square building", Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said in a statement when the original plan was announced.

The move by Amazon to create HQ2 - a second headquarters elsewhere - has stoked fears that Seattle's liberal politics will turn off the company.

Some construction workers opposed the tax out of concern for their jobs while supporters pressed the council to do something about the rapidly expanding number of homeless families in the city. The money will reportedly be used to combat Seattle's raging homeless problem, but critics are asking what's happened to the millions already spent on such programs over the last few years.

John Boufford with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades said he didn't understand rhetoric against Amazon, which he noted provides good jobs for thousands of people.

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