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Herbold: ‘Misleading political narrative’ behind Seattle head tax opposition

Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold. (Seattle Channel)

Seattle head tax supporters argue that opponents waged a misinformation campaign based on a misleading political narrative.

RELATED: 3,030 homeless moved into permanent housing in first quarter of 2018

That argument was best stated by Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who voted to repeal the Seattle head tax Monday. She voted after giving an impassioned speech, nearly in tears at moments.

It was Herbold’s attempt to set the record straight and explain why council members voted to repeal a tax they support. The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and big business were the main targets of her statement, along with a few jabs at people who supported a signature-gathering campaign to repeal the tax.

“One testifier today said that she feels like crying. I do too,” Herbold said.

“Ultimately, it is completely heartbreaking to me that thousands of people sleeping out on the street, outside in Seattle tonight and every night, are the ones who are going to pay the price of our listening to, and acting on the misleading political narrative promoted by big business in Seattle, and in particular, by the folks supporting the referendum.”

Here are some highlights of Herbold’s arguments Monday.

Ignoring facts on homelessness

To those who would say that the city council is not holding departments and recipients of funding accountable, I say this is a willful ignoring of the facts. I heard someone testify today that no affordable housing is being built. Last year, 944 units of deeply affordable housing were built and funded by the city. In addition, last year more than 5,000 people were moved out of homelessness into permanent housing. The fact is, unless we build more affordable housing than we are building today, our progress on addressing homelessness will always be limited and we will always not be effective in addressing the problem.

Herbold pointed out a study commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce found it will take seven years for Seattle to catch up with the backlog of affordable housing.

“Freattle: Most homeless do not move to town

To people who are insisting that our policies are creating a ‘freattle,’ the data proves otherwise. The people experiencing homelessness in King County are our neighbors — 83 percent reported living in King County at the time they became homeless. Six percent reported their last home address was out-of-state.

RELATED: Only 6 percent of King County homeless come from out of the area

Seattle head tax

Herbold quoted Economist Dick Conway, saying that Washington’s tax system is the worst in the nation — poorer people pay far more in taxes in proportion to their pay than the richest 1 percent. This leaves the city with limited options to raise money to fight the affordability and homelessness crises.

Within our regressive, unfair tax structure, I believe the (Seattle head tax) was truly our best option … we exempted any businesses with revenues under $20 million a year so that only 2.5 percent of businesses would be covered to pay 13 cents per employee hour. We heard the concerns of larger businesses who didn’t want a payroll tax because they would have to pay more. So we eliminated the transition to a payroll tax that would have been fair to other businesses. After nine months of meetings, hearing, headlines, an employee hours tax to fund affordable housing and homelessness services finally passed. We were finally making progress.

“Outsized influence” in government

Credit rating agencies Moody’s and Fitch say that Seattle’s tax on large employers won’t have a significant effect on the economy, in fact, it will strengthen the city’s position. But Moody’s warns that Amazon’s opposition to the tax now, supported by the vast majority of the public, demonstrates the risk of a dominant employer’s ability to exercise outsized influence in some government policy decisions.

Big business

The Chamber of Commerce has convinced the vast majority of Seattleites … that one, they now believe that increased human suffering in this city is a result of government inefficiency, despite all the things I told you about the housing that we build and the people that we shelter … the vast majority of Seattleites believe that we have to lead first with a regional funding approach that will likely be actually reliant on higher property taxes or sales taxes for all taxpayers, and that is preferable to getting resources from those most benefiting from income inequality in Seattle paying their fair share. This is what the vast majority of Seattle residents believe today. And we don’t have the time, and we don’t have the resources to change enough minds to be successful at the polls in November.

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