Amazon, Seattle Employers Face New Tax to Curb Homelessness

In some of those places, there is opposition growing over the tax incentives that some city and state governments have agreed to give Amazon in return for being selected.

Jeff Bezos-owned Amazon joined Starbucks in criticizing the tax proposal.

It has been watched closely by other cities amid a highly publicized search for a second North American headquarters by Amazon, the world's largest online retailer with first-quarter revenues of almost $50 billion.

As Ed pointed out earlier this month, the battle over the tax is being waged between one of the nation's largest companies and one of the nation's most socialist city councils. And Amazon's hardball politics in Seattle has further soured some local leaders. It accused the city of spending without accountability while ignoring that hundreds of children sleep outside.

Councillors say they plan to spend two thirds of the new money on affordable housing, building 591 units over the course of five years, and the other third on emergency shelters, trash pickup, and raises for service workers.

"People are dying on the doorsteps of prosperity".

Yet council members Bruce Harrell, Sally Bagshaw, M. Lorena González, Lisa Herbold, Rob Johnson, Debora Juarez, Teresa Mosqueda, Mike O'Brien and Kshama Sawant chose instead to make a hollow political statement about progressive taxation. Its unanimous council support confirms institutional bias against companies that create employment and generate most general-fund revenue.

"Tax Amazon" was the battle cry for supporters of the measure, claiming the Seattle-based behemoth that employs thousands in the city is not paying its fair share.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who expressed concern that the original proposal would lead to an economic backlash and threatened to veto it, said she would sign the less costly new tax ordinance into law.

Underlying all of this is the fact that Seattle really does have a serious problem with homelessness, one that is driving even some long-time residents away from the city.

A quick backgrounder on the tax: previous year, at the end of its annual budget process, the council formed a task force to come up with a progressive tax to pay for housing and services for Seattle's homeless population. The tax will provide additional revenue. "We will also continue to work towards a regional solution to homelessness because Seattle can not go it alone".

He continued: "We are highly uncertain whether the city council's anti-business positions or its spending inefficiency will change for the better".

Amazon, the city's largest employer with 45,000 workers, would take the biggest hit. A statement from an exec at Amazon, which could end up forking over $10 million annually, says the company is "disappointed" in the vote, noting "we remain very apprehensive about the future created by the Council's hostile approach".

An estimated 585 businesses will have to pay the tax, according to data from the city obtained by The Seattle Times. "The mayor's plan for investing the funds is a better balance of addressing both immediate and long-term needs", Constantine said in a statement.

Shannon Brown, 55, who has been living in a tiny home at a south Seattle homeless encampment, said there is simply not enough housing for the city's poorest people.

  • Eleanor Harrison