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Seattle City Council to delay vote on head tax

(Matt Pitman/KIRO Radio)

The Seattle City Council may again delay the vote on a proposed head tax on the city’s largest businesses, sources tell KIRO Radio’s Mike Lewis. The delay will give the city time to potentially re-craft legislation.

RELATED: Seattle council says Amazon is making their head tax all about them

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan avoided addressing the Amazon news directly at a Thursday afternoon press conference, but did say that she prefers a collaborative approach to the issue. The mayor said she will be working with the council, philanthropists, businesses, and labor to “forge a consensus” going forward.

“I don’t think we can make this a digital, ‘yes, no; my way or the highway,'” Durkan said. “That isn’t a way to get to good public policy. I don’t think telling anybody to give up what they believe in their hearts is the right way to go. What I think the right thing is, let’s focus on those common goals and aspirations. Those things we know we need, to be a vibrant community. One of those things is taking care of those people who have the least. And another thing is making sure we continue to have great jobs because we have great workers. As mayor, I want to do both of those things.”

“I am very concerned that what impact Amazon’s decision could have on a whole range of businesses and jobs in our regions, from the trade unions, to nurses, to teachers, to tech workers,” she added. “I believe we are, and can be, the city that invents the future and keeps a vibrant community here.”

Sawant shouted down at Amazon press conference

Councilmember Sawant held a press conference Thursday afternoon in front of the Amazon spheres in South Lake Union, further reacting to the company’s plans to halt construction. But in an unusual twist of events, she was shouted down by workers as she attempted to make her pro-worker speech. Construction workers descended on the press conference and chanted “No head tax!” every time the council member attempted to speak.

“We can disagree, as we will have disagreements in the labor movement, but if we fight against each other the bosses win,” Sawant said. “…Brothers, the only people you are empowering is Amazon and the bosses.”

Sawant asked the construction workers to speak on the mic instead of “drowning her out.”

“I’ve seen you drown people out before, so …” one worker said. “…I’ve seen your party shout people down, this is a taste of what you do.”

WATCH: Construction workers shout down Councilmember Sawant

A construction worker did take the mic, saying:

Amazon is a responsible developer that pays living wages and provides living wage jobs for the construction industry. They don’t have a requirement to pay a prevailing wage, but they do. They provide health insurance and retirement for iron workers on that project, all of these projects. They have provided more than 1 million man hours in the last year alone to provide family wage jobs for people in and around this community. Homelessness is an enormous issue, not just an Amazon issue. It needs to have a regional approach that is fair and reasonable – something that (the head tax) is not.

The man said that Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine have agreed to a regional approach to the crisis and they support that. Sawant then continued her speech arguing that the tax Amazon would pay to the city would be insignificant compared to its total profits.

Council may delay head tax

KIRO Radio’s Mike Lewis reports the council was surprised by the enormous blowback from Amazon surrounding the head tax. Though he says there is still support for it within the council, it likely won’t pass as is.

Council members were surprised to hear that Amazon was halting plans to expand in Seattle. The company cited the proposed head tax as the deterrent from further building in the city.

The current proposal is to tax the Seattle’s biggest businesses 26 cents per employee, per hour. Proponents argue the tax would target about 3 percent of total businesses in the city. It would raise about $75 million a year to help tackle the homeless and affordability issues the city faces.

The council was expected to vote on the proposed tax as early as May 14. That vote may have been pushed back to May 21. Despite resistance from the business community, a statement signed by several council members was released Wednesday. In it, council members argued the head tax doesn’t just target Amazon.

“This was never a proposal targeting one company, but Amazon made the conversation about them when they expressed their intentions to pause construction on their new office tower pending a vote on our Progressive Tax on Business,” the statement reads.

The statement was attributed to Lorena González, Lisa Herbold, Teresa Mosqueda, and Mike O’Brien. Councilmembers Kshama Sawant, Sally Bagshaw, Rob Johnson, Debora Juarez, and Bruce Harrell did not sign the statement.

The effort to tax the city’s most profitable businesses has struggled since it was originally proposed last year. It was rejected in November by a 5-4 vote.



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