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Mayor Ed Murray: Property tax is ‘not a tax I want to use’

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says he doesn't want to use the property tax, but it's less regressive than a sales tax. (AP Photo/file)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has repeatedly told us that we have an affordable housing crisis and to help solve that he wants voters to approve a property tax worth $275 million.

But KIRO Radio’s Jason and Burns argue that’s counter-intuitive.

Related: Mayor Murray outlines $275M levy for homelessness

“To create more options for housing,” Murray explained. “Because we have a regressive tax system … Sales tax is not an option here, but if it was, sales tax is even more regressive for poor people than a property tax because folks with property at least have equity. In this city, if you own property, you’ve gotten a lot of equity during this period of growth.”

“So are we really in a crisis?” Burns asked.

Yes, Murray said, and almost every city on the coasts is experiencing an affordable housing crisis. He said the $290 million housing levy voters approved in August was targeted not only to people who are fully or partially subsidized, but also the workforce or people who “work at hospitals or clean the hotel rooms.”

The mayor admitted that he is worried that, in the future, there won’t be a middle class in the city.

“I should point out that 90 percent of all the construction that you’ve seen since I’ve been mayor was permitted years before I ever became mayor,” he said.

He said growth in urban areas is a good way to build a city, but city leaders failed to plan for affordability, enough transit, or open space.

“Which is why you find us going back to raise taxes … to get those buses, to build those light rail stations, to create those parks or affordable housing,” he said. “[We’re] playing catch up.”

Related: Mayor pressed for answers on city’s homeless plan, levy

The mayor explained that when you raise taxes on things like transit, it makes people’s lives more affordable because “transportation is an incredible cost.”

“When we raise it on affordable housing, we create more affordable housing that makes the city a more affordable city,” Murray said. “It’s also important to remember property tax is one of the few things we have available to us. It’s a regressive tax. It’s not a tax I want to use.”

Murray went on to say that a Seattle taxpayer’s burden ranks in the middle of the 39 cities in King County, and many cities around Lake Washington have higher taxes.

“There’s an unincorporated part of King County, that if it annexed into the city of Seattle, their taxes would go down,” Murray said. “So I think there’s a bit of a myth out there, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean it’s the best tax. It’s certainly not the tax I would like to use.”

The mayor didn’t have a number in mind to illustrate what the average household should make to live in any city, let alone Seattle. But he did say the city is very expensive.

“That’s why we focus on tripling the amount of affordable housing; raising the minimum wage to make life more affordable here,” Murray said.

Oh, and if he has his way, Seattle taxpayer’s will approve his proposed soda tax, too.

Related: Senseless soda tax targets low-income minorities

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