Head tax 2.0? Kshama Sawant's new 'Tax Amazon' plan is far more expensive

SEATTLE -- For Kshama Sawant, swearing in for her third term as a Seattle City councilmember Monday night meant one thing: A second chance to go after Amazon for more taxes.

At Washington Hall, surrounded by devoted, cheering followers, Sawant launched her "Tax Amazon 2020" campaign.

The issue of a head tax fiercely divided the city back in 2018. While the council originally passed a $275 per-employee tax for companies making at least $20 million in gross annual revenue, they later repealed it after significant push-back.

It seemed to some at the time that Seattle voters were increasingly dissatisfied with the council and its perceived anti-business actions. But then, voters rejected that notion in 2019, going against Amazon and Seattle Chamber-backed candidates, which ultimately led to Sawant winning a third term.

She says the election showed that Seattle wants big taxes on big business.

"It is our responsibility to strike while the iron is hot and immediately begin building a powerful grassroots movement to tax Amazon and other big businesses in our city," Sawant said to media ahead of her swearing-in ceremony.

It's clear her office has not yet worked out a plan, but Sawant wants to raise between $200 million and $500 million annually, with no sunset. That's roughly four to 10 times more than the 2018 head tax, which would have raised about $47 million each year and would need to be revisited by the council years later.

She said the tax would impact the top 1-3 percent of Seattle corporations and would pay for "social housing," city-owned and maintained apartments and homes.

Her office plans to debate various tax options in front of the public on January 25 at Washington Hall.

"We are not playing around," she said. "We are dead serious about changing this city from becoming a playground for the wealthy to becoming a city that's affordable for all."

Sawant put the blame of the failed head tax squarely on her colleagues in City Hall, saying that, "If City Hall doesn't come through for us," she'll also draft a ballot initiative to circumvent the council.

The last head tax proposal fractured the relationship between Amazon and Seattle, the city the mega-company has called home for years. During the heat of the debate, the company paused construction on a new project that was slated to bring in thousands of new jobs.

On Monday, a spokesman for the company said they couldn't comment on a proposal that hadn't been published.

While the company is frequently criticized by some politicians on the national stage over how little it pays in federal taxes, the company does pay hundreds of millions of dollars a year in Washington state and local taxes.

Geekwire, citing a source inside the company, said Amazon paid $297 million in state and local taxes in 2018. That's roughly $50 million more than the year prior, which The Seattle Times reported on.

The company is also the largest property taxpayer in the city, paying three times as much as the second largest, according to city documents.

The company has also upped its support of groups like Mary's Place, saying it has committed $100 million in cash and in-kind donations to the nonprofit over the next decade.

Amazon has clearly made its mark on Seattle, from the explosion of development to bringing in tens of thousands of jobs. As the most senior member of Seattle's City Council, Sawant is making her mark with a grassroots movement to further tax the company.