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Sawant: Don’t listen to business blackmail over head tax

Seattle passed a head tax on the city's largest employers like Amazon in May 2018. (AP)

The city’s latest attempt at a business head tax will not only solve the homelessness crisis, it will help the affordable housing problem, too, Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant argues.

“This is the most rational solution; for the city to build permanently affordable housing by taxing big business because that is where the money is,” Sawant told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “They are making enormous amounts of wealth on the backs of ordinary people, so it is time they pay back a tiny share of their huge profits.”

RELATED: Council considers new Seattle head tax

The city council is crafting legislation for an employee hours tax, or head tax. It comes on the heels of a special task force’s recommendation that the city implements the tax — among others — to raise $150 million annually.

“You can’t go to working people because working people are already overtaxed,” Sawant said. “You can’t go to small businesses because small businesses are already overburdened. Who has the money and who is not paying their fair share? It’s the biggest businesses of all, like Amazon.”

“Not your corner coffee shop or corner grocery store,” she said. “And if we tax these biggest businesses to the tune of $150 million per year, we could build up to 750 affordable units every year and create good union jobs in the process. This would make a huge dent in skyrocketing rent and the homelessness crisis.”

City officials, however, are considering placing a tax on all Seattle businesses — including the small ones. The city task force recommends a “skin-in-the-game” tax for all Seattle businesses. Estate taxes, highly-paid CEO taxes, and real estate sale taxes are also among the recommendations.

More than 300 of the city’s small businesses — many of them restaurants — signed a letter urging the council to at least include them in the head tax process. The businesses asked that the city not place yet another tax on them, pointing to the skin-in-the-game proposal.

Will a head tax push out big businesses?

Sawant pushes back against the notion that Seattle’s large companies will simply skip town if they face more taxes. Amazon, for example, has already begun searching for a second headquarters in another city. It will place 50,000 new employees there instead of Seattle.

Local leaders also had a meeting to “hit the refresh button” on city relations with the retail shopping giant.

Sawant says that idea that companies will leave is an empty threat. She points to Boeing, which still moved operations out of state despite getting huge tax breaks from the state Legislature.

“We heard these kinds of threats and blackmail from big business,” Sawant said. “Even when we were fighting for $15 an hour. We have heard this blackmail from corporate landlords every time we’ve succeeded in winning a measure of renters rights.”

“The reality is that the reason Amazon and corporations like them are making profits is not because they are creating jobs,” she said. “It is because, in this system of capitalism, wealth is rewarded with more wealth. At the end of the day, the solution to this problem is to not cower in front of this economic blackmail and fight for our rights.”

Listen to the entire conversation here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the new Amazon headquarters outside of Seattle will employee 40,000 employees. Amazon has pointed out that it’s more like 50,000.

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