Rantz: Seattle spent thousands on ‘fake’ head tax survey they ignored

Jun 12, 2018, 6:50 AM | Updated: 12:05 pm
council, economist, head tax survey...
The full Seattle City Council was on hand for hearings on the proposed head tax. (KIRO Radio/Matt Pitman)
(KIRO Radio/Matt Pitman)

The City of Seattle spent $7,575 on a head tax survey to gauge support for the proposed legislation before it was approved. Only, some officials thought the survey was fake, emails show. Once the link to the survey was revealed by MyNorthwest.com, it was quickly removed and the damning results were ignored.

View survey results here.

In mid-March, Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez’s office helped coordinate a pricey head tax survey by Patinkin Research Strategies. It targeted businesses owners to gauge interest with the head tax.

From the start, city officials expressed concern over the survey. Council President Bruce Harrell warned against the initial survey cost (originally at over $15,000) so they could “preserve these funds in the budget for a contract or service that could produce, what I believe would be, more meaningful information.” Cody Reiter, legislative aide to Gonzalez, acknowledged in an email that “we’re not getting statistically significant data due to lack of randomization” though he hoped the data would be useful.

RELATED: Seattle head tax 101

Nevertheless, Gonzalez pushed forward, with the help of Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Teresa Mosqueda. Based on the preliminary results, they should have been less concerned with the cost of the head tax survey and more concerned with how unpopular their proposals polled.

When asked if they’d support a $500 tax on businesses with gross receipts above $20 million, 80 percent of the near 500 business respondents held a negative view. When asked if they’d support a $300 head tax on businesses making over $5 million gross, 86.9 percent opposed. In fact, they tested a total of six different head tax ideas, changing either the tax per employee or the gross the business makes, and each time it was overwhelmingly opposed.

The biggest drivers for their answers? They didn’t trust the council to spend the money appropriately and they thought it would kill business. Indeed, fewer than one in 10 respondents think the city is moving in the right direction on the addressing homelessness.

None of this data would sway the council members who pushed the polling. Indeed, Gonzalez, Herbold, and Mosqueda were forced to budge to a smaller head tax figure.

Fake head tax survey?

When MyNorthwest reported on the survey, a link was published online. This caused concern at City Hall. Apparently, this was the first time many staffers were aware of the survey. Some thought it was fake.

On May 10, the MyNorthwest link was passed along to various city staffers. Joseph Peha, in an email to council communications staff, explained the survey “smells fake.” Dana Robinson Slote, communications director for the council, emailed Mark Prentice, a communications adviser to the mayor, asking if he’d seen it. It remains unclear why the council’s own communications staff members weren’t alerted to the survey.

It appears the survey was so poorly devised, it looked fake to city officials. That’s not money well spent, is it?

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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Rantz: Seattle spent thousands on ‘fake’ head tax survey they ignored