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Over a year later, poll shows broad support for Seattle’s big business tax

Supporters for a big business tax in Seattle City Hall in 2018. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The Seattle City Council unanimously approved a big business tax in 2020, in the face of opposition from several groups, as well as within city hall itself. Now, over a year later, new polling released by the Northwest Progressive Institute (NPI) indicates that the tax appears to have broad public support.

Sawant: Amazon tax ‘only thing’ that can rescue Seattle economy

The measure was originally passed in July 2020, levying a tax on corporations with payrolls over $7 million. Under the measure, qualifying businesses are taxed 0.7% for every employee making over $150,000, and 1.4% for employees making over $500,000.

Mayor Jenny Durkan opted to send the bill back to the council unsigned, stating that she could not support the law “in its current form.”

“Council’s fast track approach to passing one of the largest taxes proposed in City history has led to serious concerns about not just the legality, size and scale of this tax, but its long-term impacts on the city and our small businesses,” Durkan said at the time.

While the levy has yet to begin collecting, it has already figured heavily into Seattle’s spending plans for the future, with its estimated funds widely incorporated into the city’s 2021 budget for COVID-19 relief and homeless response efforts.

And despite concerns voiced by groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Seattle Association that businesses like Amazon may decide to move employees out of the city in the face of new taxes, polling released by the NPI found that 67% of those surveyed support the tax, 50% of whom said they “strongly support” it. Just 27% said they remain opposed to it, while 6% said they weren’t sure.

“Businesses and business groups, Amazon included, need to frame shift,” the NPI said in a news release. “They need to stop looking at taxes as a negative and see them as a positive, just as Seattle voters are already doing, according to our research.”

This comes while the Seattle Chamber of Commerce is seeking to overturn the tax in court. It is waiting to hear from a state appeals court after a King County judge ruled against the group’s lawsuit in early June. The chamber alleges in its lawsuit that the tax violates the state constitution, and that it conflicts with the right of Washington residents to earn a living wage.

In her ruling striking down the lawsuit in King County court, Judge Mary Roberts took issue with that reasoning, given that the JumpStart tax is levied directly on qualifying businesses and does not impact individual employee salaries. She also noted that city governments have broad authority to tax business entities.

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