Proposed Seattle tax on big businesses stirs heated debate at council hearing

SEATTLE – The Seattle City Council held a public meeting Monday night over a proposal to tax the city’s biggest businesses and put the money toward fighting homelessness.

The question of whether it’s fair to saddle business with the cost stirred heated debate at City Hall.

One of the most controversial parts of the proposal is that it taxes businesses based on the number of hours their employees work.

The tax would amount to 26 cents per employee per hour for the next two years. It would be imposed on the city’s 500 largest businesses or those making more than $20 million annually.

The city says that’s the top 3  percent of businesses.

The tax would generate $75 million per year, all of which would go toward creating affordable housing and combating the homeless crisis, according to the City Council.

City Council chambers were packed as business leaders who opposed the proposed employee tax sounded off against those who supported it.

“Ho, ho, hey, hey, Amazon has got to pay,” chanted a large group of supporters for the employee tax.

“The fact that the wealthiest people among us are paying less than working people is ridiculous; we can fund these things, have the wealth in this city to do this,” said Chantelle Barndt, who is in favor of the employee tax.

The council began the meeting by saying there are more than 11,000 people living without housing in Seattle.

The $75 million that would be generated from this proposed tax annually would create 1,780 affordable housing units over the next five years, 100 tiny houses and 20%, or $15 million, would go toward expanded trash pickup, hygiene services and creating parking spaces for people living in their cars.

“If spending more money was the only answer, we would’ve solved this problem a long time ago,” said Jon Scholes, with the Downtown Seattle Association.

Business leaders made their case one-by-one to the City Council.

“I’m opposing the tax on jobs and I’m here to ask you to please use the resources you already have that are abundant,” said Marilyn Strickland, president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

Among the businesses represented was Safeway and Albertsons, who say that if the tax were to pass, they’d either have to raise the price of food or shut down stores.

Other business owners say the tax would entice businesses to close doors in Seattle and open locations on the Eastside.

“The cost of doing business in Seattle is more than it’s ever been and businesses have a choice of where they want to be,” said Scholes.

“We are here to fight, housing is a human right,” chanted the group in favor of the tax. They then got kicked out of council chambers for being disruptive to the meeting.

“It’s absolutely repulsive, we live in one of the wealthiest cities in the entire world and the fact that we can’t house our homeless is absolutely disgusting. I don’t want to live in a city where people are dying on the street, that’s not a society I believe in,” said Brandt.

If passed, the employee tax would go into effect in January 2019.