Seattle leaders say tax hike is coming despite Amazon's halt on new construction

SEATTLE -- Amazon announced Wednesday it would put a stop to any further construction on a new project promising thousands of jobs to Seattle, until it sees how the City Council votes on a newly proposed tax.

Seattle is considering a new employee tax, also known as a “head tax”. The head tax would charge the city’s biggest businesses about $540 per employee, raising an expected $75 million. That money would go toward fighting the city’s homeless crisis.

Amazon, the city’s biggest employer, would be taxed about $20 million alone.

Q13 News spoke with Seattle Times editorial board member Brier Dudley, who wrote about Amazon’s decision and what this tax will mean for Amazon.

Dudley says if Amazon starts relocating businesses outside of Seattle, it could hurt the city.

“Seattle has been really lucky to have all this growth and activity around here -- there are downsides for sure -- but if it stops, it could be worse,” he said.

Seattle officials say the city is already hurting.

“The income and inequality that is growing in this country right now is out of hand. And while Amazon maybe did not create that system, they’re certainly benefiting from it,” said City Council member Mike O’Brien.

O’Brien said he sat down with Amazon officials earlier in the day before they made their announcement.

O’Brien said he wants to find a solution between the city and Amazon, but that the big companies in town have to start taking some of the responsibility to help the community they’re a part of.

“It’s about large companies that are really benefiting from the economic growth in this region in a way that is leaving other people in Seattle behind,” said fellow City Council member Lisa Herbold.

Like O’Brien, Herbold wants to continue to work with Amazon, and said she hopes they will reconsider the halt on construction.

But she said a big reason there is a homeless crisis in the first place is due to the effects of the big companies and their highly paid employees on the economy and on housing and rental prices.

She said it’s time for companies like amazon to share in the wealth they’ve experienced in Seattle.

“Who loses? It’s the low-income, moderate-income people who lose in these bidding wars jacking housing prices up, and we have an increase in homelessness as a result,” said Herbold.

“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,” said Drew Herdener, a vice president for Amazon.

The vote on the big business employee tax is scheduled for May 14.