Seattle's city council surrenders, will repeal head tax it passed last month

That was fast. The Seattle City Council voted to approve a $275 per employee per year head tax on May 14th. Yesterday, less than a month later, Mayor Jenny Durkan and seven members of the city council (out of nine) put out a statement saying they had reconsidered and would repeal the tax.

“It is clear that the ordinance will lead to a prolonged, expensive political fight over the next five months that will do nothing to tackle our urgent housing and homelessness crisis,” the statement said. “We heard you. This week, the City Council is moving forward with the consideration of legislation to repeal the current tax on large businesses to address the homelessness crisis.”

The head tax passed last month was a compromise. Kshama Sawant, the socialist council member who led the charge for the tax, was pushing for $500 per head. Mayor Durkan felt that was too much so she and the council settled on $275 per head, still higher than any head tax in the country.

There were probably two things that turned this around in the past month. First, there was a private poll published last week which revealed that while 88% of Seattle respondents believed homelessness was a very serious problem, 83% were unhappy with how the city council was handling it. Specifically, they were getting tired of all the taxes. And that poll was taken before the head tax was passed.

The other thing was the campaign to repeal to the head tax by placing it on the ballot in November. The final nail in the head tax’s coffin came yesterday when organizers for the “No Tax On Jobs” campaign announced they had secured more signatures than necessary. From KIRO 7:

After weeks of controversy and passionate volunteers on both sides trying to convince you to sign or not sign the petition, the “No Tax On Jobs” campaign says it’s collected “well more than” 20,000 signatures, and celebrated at The Shelter Lounge in Ballard on Sunday…

People against the head tax needed about 17,600 signatures to get the option to repeal the tax on the ballot. Now, people who support the tax say they’ll be taking the fight to the polls.

“Quite frankly, it’s atrocious what’s happening around the city,” said Erika Nagy, who is part of the “No Tax On Jobs” campaign.

So the tax was going on the ballot and there was every indication it was going to lose. The Mayor and most of the city council decided it was better to kill it now rather than risk making city residents more upset by delaying the inevitable. The decision to repeal is probably the smartest move the council has made in several weeks.

But it’s still an embarrassing reversal especially for socialist Kshama Sawant, who called this a “backroom betrayal” last night:

Naturally, she’s claiming big business “lies” are responsible but, as mentioned above, Seattle residents were unhappy with the city council’s spending habits months before the ballot campaign began:

Sawant also told Washington Post, “I have a news flash for council members who capitulated to this in lightning speed: This was never going to be easy in the face of mass corporate misinformation. She added, “It’s a complete betrayal of working people.” And yes, she’s still crowing about the $15 minimum wage hike. That will be great for the few people who still have jobs after those higher labor costs drive employers to make self-order kiosks the norm.

There’s no telling what Sawant or the city council will do next, but for the moment it looks like common sense has prevailed in Seattle.