Seattle Council rejects head tax to fund homeless programs

By: KIRO 7 News Staff

Updated:

SEATTLE - “A head tax is the shape of things to come,” said Seattle City Councilwoman Debra Juarez. But today, she was part of a 5-4 majority that rejected an employee head tax to raise money for homeless programs. 

The rejected proposal would have charged $125 a year per employee. It would have applied only to businesses with $10 million in revenues. They make up about 5 percent of Seattle businesses. Supporters say the tax would have raised $20 million a year.

Councilman Mike O'Brien proposed the tax. “I hear almost every single day from business leaders in our community complaining about the homeless crisis and how it is hurting their business.”

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Councilman Rob Johnson said he couldn't vote yes today.

“I will be voting no today in the hopes that we can have the time and space to really dedicate to a conversation about where that $25 million should really go.”

Ninety-one Seattle businesses wrote a letter to the council opposing a head tax.

“The real reason why there is opposition to the homeless tax and that is where the rubber hits the road, which is corporate politics," said Councilwoman Kshama Sawant.

But at least some council members who voted no expect to support a head tax after a longer period of public discussion.

“We have not brought in that 1,100 businesses that people so quickly dismiss and say that they can pay for it,” said Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw. 

“This doesn't mean because we disagree about this issue that there are bad people here or that we don't understand that there are homeless people. We do. We just want to make sure it gets done, it gets done quickly and it gets done right and it's sustainable and it passes 9-0 not 5-4,” said Juarez.

Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan opposed the head tax proposal during the campaign. Today, her office released this statement to KIRO-7:

“Throughout the campaign, Mayor-elect Durkan expressed concerns about the revenue sources in the current proposal and its impact on small businesses. Once she takes office, the Mayor-elect is committed to working closely with the City Council to provide immediate and long-term solutions for people experiencing homelessness and those endangered of becoming homeless. In addition to the budget that is passed by the City Council, she's already in contact with local, state, and federal officials to secure potential additional means and to address, as a regional issue, the affordability crisis.”

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