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Two arguments and major drama surrounding Seattle’s head tax

A speaker uses her time to address the council to sing a song about rich people and affordability in Seattle. (Seattle Channel)
LISTEN: Arguments and drama surrounding Seattle's head tax

The Seattle City Council hearing on its proposed employee hours tax — aka a head tax — was fairly predictable. Right up to the point when everyone was kicked out.

RELATED: Seattle businesses send message on mounting taxes

Local businesses begged officials Monday night not to tax them anymore; that they will have to raise prices, cut jobs, or leave town. Their opposition said they didn’t believe them, that they have plenty of money, and sprinkled “1 percent” and “Amazon” over a few statements.

“It’s $75 million in revenue that is going to be generated,” Danny O’Neil said on KIRO Radio’s Tom and Curley Show. “The top 500 Seattle businesses, they are going to have to pay, on average, 26 cents an hour tax and have that money funneled to homeless solutions. The idea being that the people who are profiting most from this city are going to have to pay a bigger share of helping the people who are being left out of the city.”

Two arguments around Seattle’s head tax

Seattle’s two-sided head tax issue doesn’t only exist in the council chambers. It’s also present on the Tom and Curley Show.

“As you know, corporations don’t pay taxes. They just collect them,” Curley said. “The money will either come from the consumer, because prices will go up. Or it will be paid for from dividends to shareholders, or the employee ends up paying it. The corporation doesn’t pay the tax.”

“It could also come from the salary of the richest person at the corporation,” Danny countered.

“This is what companies do,” he said. “They say ‘this is how capitalism works and any attempt to mess with this is going to cause the complete collapse of Western civilization.’ This is what they do instead of saying, ‘Huh, we are being asked to reconfigure the working arraignment here in the city because the city is dealing with a homeless population that it has to find a solution to.’ There is a certain amount of sense to have the most advantaged entities, the 500 largest businesses succeeding most in the city, help address the situation for the people who have been left behind in this city.”

Head tax drama

The council chambers were primed for drama Monday night with two passionate sides wanting to speak their minds. More than 100 people wanted to speak. Each was limited to 1.5 minutes. The hearing began with council members asking the crowded chamber to be respectful. Councilmember Sally Bagshaw wanted to “show that we are different than Washington DC … That we can provide space to listen to each other, and that we know there are going to be differing opinions and we will provide a place for people to speak honestly and openly.”

Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez echoed that, hoping the crowd could have “a respectful and productive discourse …. And at the end of the day, we might disagree with each other, but hopefully we’ll still be able to have a conversation that is productive and informative…”

That sentiment didn’t last long, however. The crowd booed and hissed at Marilyn Strickland, CEO and President of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce (and former mayor of Tacoma). That prompted the first warning from Bagshaw that she would clear the room and allow small groups of people in at a time to make their comments. She made a second warning soon after that when the crowd started chanting “Ho ho, hey hey, Amazon has got to pay.”

“We are not going to have a pep rally,” Bagshaw said.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant chided Bagshaw for punishing people for cheering and chanting and “building a movement.”

But after a third disruption Bagshaw made good on her word and had security clear the room. The crowd wasn’t any more civil out in the hallway. Speakers accused the council of stifling free speech. They were eventually let back into the council chambers, just in time for a speaker to perform a song she wrote about the issue. Bagshaw thought the song was “amazing.”

It’s antics like that which had Danny pausing for a second, listening to audio of the meeting while debating Curley.

“We need more than $75 million, we need the full $150 million that our movement demands,” one man said at the meeting. “And we won’t stop demanding that until Amazon and the other enormous businesses in Seattle pay their full share!”

“Wait, I just realized, is this the guy whose side I’m on?” Danny said. “I’m on this guy’s side? I’m kind of uncomfortable now … that guy kind of sounds unhinged.”

You can view the entire meeting here.

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