Seattle approves 'Amazon Tax' to alleviate city's affordable housing crisis

Protesters attend the Seattle City Council finance committee meeting Friday May 11. The committee voted 5-4 to reject Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal of a more modest tax on large employers to address the city’s homelessness crisis.(Steve Ringman  The

The lower tax was the result of feverish negotiations over the weekend between members of the City Council and Seattle's mayor, Jenny Durkan, who had opposed the council's earlier tax proposal. It would raise about $75 million a year for homeless services and affordable housing.

The debate over who should pay to solve a housing crisis exacerbated by Seattle's rapid economic growth comes amid skyrocketing housing prices and rising homelessness. A point-in-time count past year tallied more than 11,600 homeless people in King County.

Amazon raised the stakes when it announced it would halt construction planning on a 17-story tower near its hometown headquarters pending the outcome of the tax vote. It also was rethinking filling office space in another leased building.

"If Amazon pauses in Seattle, it will mean lost jobs directly and indirectly", Scholes told Seattle's Morning News ahead of the Monday council meeting.

But, he added, "we remain very apprehensive about the future created by the Council's hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here". We are highly uncertain whether the city council's anti-business positions or its spending inefficiency will change for the better.

The collected revenue would be used to address the civil state of emergency over homelessness that the city has been in since 2015.

"The company recently reported record-breaking profits of almost $2 billion dollars in one quarter", according to a statement by Lorena González, Lisa Herbold, Teresa Mosqueda and Mike O'Brien, the councilmembers who proposed the tax.

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Co-sponsor of the charge, Teresa Mosqueda, said the bill was an opportunity to provide housing: "People are dying on the doorsteps of prosperity", she said. But its most vocal critic may have been Amazon, which threatened to stop construction on new facilities in the city and put 7,000 jobs on hold over the tax proposal.

With more than 45,000 employees in the city, Amazon could pay more than $10 million alone. It should also be mentioned that Amazon has worked to ease the plight of Seattle homeless with a planned shelter at the base of one of its buildings and other contributions.

And the tax would expire after 5 years.

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

"I've been really struggling with how I feel about this compromise because I've been really, really focused on the spending plan and the dire needs of our communities", co-sponsor of the original legislation Lisa Herbold said before the vote.

Several members of the nine-person City Council said they were reluctantly voting in favor of the smaller tax because there were not enough votes to override a mayoral veto of the larger tax plan.

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