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Kshama Sawant announces a ‘Plan B’ for repealed Seattle head tax

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant announces a "Plan B" to replace the council's repealed head tax at city hall, Oct. 24, 2018. (Hann Scott, KIRO Radio)

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant announced a new plan to raise millions for affordable housing Wednesday, four months after her council colleagues repealed a controversial head tax.

Sawant calls it a “Plan B.” She aims to raise $48 million each year through “the People’s Budget Movement.” It would be the same amount from the council’s head tax that was passed earlier this year, then repealed in June. Among a series of funding ideas that Sawant and advocates are proposing are cuts to police equipment and hiring, as well as city executive salaries. They also propose a bond measure among other options.

“There is a serious housing affordability crisis that has been raging in this city,” Sawant said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “… nearly 23,000 very poor working families are paying more than half of their income in rent. I mention this because these are families who have not lost their housing yet … They are households that are one rent increase, or one small financial crisis away from being evicted from their homes.”

The city council is currently engaged in its annual budget discussions. Sawant argued that Mayor Durkan’s proposed budget only allocates .8 percent of funding for affordable housing.

“This is not a serious approach dealing with the biggest crisis that all our working people are facing in the city,” Sawant said.

The $48 million Sawant aims to raise would fund “hundreds of units of publicly-funded permanently affordable housing.”

Three options

The Plan B proposal includes three options. Option 2 proposes to bring back the “Amazon Tax,” also known as the head tax. Option 3 is a $480 million bond to build 3,000-5,000 homes. The city would pay off the bond at $36 million, annually. Option 1 proposes to raise money through a series of cuts to city programs and salaries that Sawant argues are less important than affordable housing.

The cuts, and their savings, include:

  • Stopping sweeps of homeless encampments: $7,662,000 savings
  • Cut new computers in cop cars: $7,100,000
  • No tolls on city streets: $1 million
  • Cut mayor and council member salaries to area median income of $70,200: $655,724
  • Cap city executive salaries at $150,000: $5,091,867
  • Slow new police officer hiring “because funding affordable housing will help reduce crime more”: $12,000,000
  • Reduce number of city executives, “because everyone has too many bosses”; eliminate vacant executive positions: $14,500,000

Backing Sawant’s Plan B are a series of housing advocates, including:

  • Amy Tower, Tenants Union of Washington state
  • Tim Harris, Real Change
  • Zoe Schurman, Zero Hour Seattle: Youth Climate Movement
  • Kailyn Nicholson, Socialist Alternative
  • David Parsons, UAW 4121 (Union of Academic Student Employees)
  • Juan Jose Bocanegra, May 1 Action Committee for El Comité
  • Shaun Scott, Seattle Democratic Socialists of America
  • Scott Morrow with Nickelsville and SHARE WHEEL

The city council had spent months on Seattle’s first head tax, which taxed employee hours worked at the city’s largest companies. But the idea caused a divide in Seattle. Not only did the business community fight it, many unions were vocal about their opposition. Sawant was yelled down by union members at one demonstration in front of Amazon’s headquarters. Amazon also halted construction on its expanding headquarters in Seattle while the council debated the head tax.

Shortly after the council passed the tax, it was repealed. Officials said that a community effort to repeal the tax was gaining support. Had that repeal effort gone to voters for a final decision, the city could have been on the hook for the costs. Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Kshama Sawant did not support the repeal bill.

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