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Seattle settles lawsuit over 2018 head tax repeal controversy

People in support of, and against, the head tax crowd into Seattle City Hall in 2018. (Matt Pitman, KIRO Radio)

Two years after Seattle lawmakers repealed a controversial head tax, a lawsuit related to how that process played out behind closed doors has finally been settled for $35,000.

Seattle head tax 101: How the process played out in 2018

The lawsuit was originally filed by activist Arthur West, who alleged that the city violated the state’s open public meetings laws when it negotiated a repeal of the 2018 head tax. West pointed to a series of private text messages and calls between Mayor Jenny Durkan and council members, as part of a successful bid to line up a repeal vote.

In issuing its $35,000 settlement to West, the city effectively admitted no fault or wrongdoing, and avoided what would likely have been a costly trial process.

“A settlement would cost several times less than continuing to litigate,” a spokesman for City Attorney Pete Holmes told The Seattle Times.

In a separate statement issued to the Times, West expressed satisfaction with the end result, saying “the point’s been made,” and that he thinks he “can declare victory on this one without any qualms.”

The 2018 head tax was originally approved by the Seattle City Council in May of 2018, and would have taxed over 500 businesses making more than $20 million annually in gross receipts. It was expected to raise $47 million annually, with a large portion of that money earmarked for affordable housing and homeless response efforts.

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After council members approved the tax unanimously, public pressure and a lengthy negotiation process with the mayor’s office led to a 7-2 vote to repeal, with Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda operating as the lone votes against the repeal effort.

In the years since, Sawant has continued to push for a tax on big businesses. A proposal to tax corporations with payrolls over $7 million from Mosqueda was eventually approved by the council early in 2020, and will take effect in 2021.

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