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Businesses, politicians weigh in on proposal for state head tax

Supporters of a 2018 head tax in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A committee hearing was held Tuesday morning for a bill that would impose a tax on large businesses with employees making at least $150,000.

State lawmakers bring Seattle head tax battle to Olympia

The proposal would solely affect King County, and has been met with mixed responses from the business community, as well as local politicians. The tax would be between 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent, includes exemptions for small businesses, and would be used to address affordable housing and homeless services.

In Tuesday’s hearing in the state House Finance Committee, a variety of stakeholders weighed in. Expressing concerns were the mayors of Auburn and Kent, who noted that no other municipalities outside of Seattle were consulted on the bill.

Outright opposition for the proposal was voiced by the Association of Washington Business (AWB).

“This bill is a slippery slope,” said the AWB’s Tommy Gantz. “We want businesses to invest in Washington under the principle that they’re our partner.”

Other business representatives expressed support, including Expedia, and Gravity Payments Founder and CEO Dan Price. Price famously pioneered a $70,000 minimum salary for his Seattle employees in 2015, cutting his own $1.1 million yearly pay down to $70,000 in the process.

“I did my job to solve the problem for the people I represent,” Price said Tuesday to the House Finance Committee. “But we need this body to do your job. We can’t solve these systemic issues through private solutions — it can’t be done. We need all of you to step up and have democratic, systemic solutions.”

Also speaking out in favor of the bill was the CEO of Seattle-area restaurant chain Tutta Bella, Joe Fujere.

“I stand with the other businesses here today in saying we want to be engaged, and we want to be part of this solution,” Fujere said.

Will the proposed King County head tax hurt the local economy?

When pressed on whether businesses are happy with how the region has spent money to address housing and homelessness so far, Fujere and Price pointed to a need for more accountability, and the relatively small cost to companies the tax would represent.

“I’m not happy with how money is being spent at the local level. However, with business support there will be more accountability,” Fujere said.

“It’s easy to throw the government under the bus — it’s easy to point to anyone and find waste,” Price said. “In fact, this bill will cost me money. But what it’ll cost me will be less than our … holiday party we just threw.”

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