Mayor Durkan signs head tax as opponents plan repeal

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan quietly signed the controversial employee head tax today. There was none of the ceremony that often accompanies the signing of major legislation. In a tweet shortly after the signing was announced, she said she is “proud to sign this bill into law that will help move people off the street, clean up garbage and needles, and provide resources to people experiencing homelessness.”

In a statement, the mayor appealed for unity, “I fundamentally believe that we must continue to come together to listen to one another to address these significant challenges. I understand there are very strong passions and genuine policy differences between neighbors, businesses, community leaders and people across our City on how to best address this crisis, but I know we can be a City that continues to invent the future and come together to build a more affordable, inclusive, and just future for all who call this great City home.”

The tax will amount to $275 a year per person. It will be in place for five years beginning Jan. 1, 2019. It will apply only to businesses that generate more than $20 million a year in Seattle revenue.

That includes the Schwartz Brothers Restaurants, best known for the Daniel's Broiler steakhouses. CEO Lindsey Schwartz says the cost will be “in the 10's of thousands of dollars annually for our business.”

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Separately, marketing consultant Saul Spady said he's planning to file a referendum to repeal the head tax.

“For an issue that (is) this hot, that had people walking into City Hall and chanting 'no head tax,' to have a 9-0 vote and a statement that we got a grand compromise that literally is six time larger than the nearest head tax in the country, that's not a compromise at all.”

Spady’s grandfather founded the Dick's restaurant chain which opposes the head tax. Spady himself, though, is not part of the restaurant company.

In addition to a referendum, Saul Spady is thinking about a voter initiative creating incentives for private businesses to help the homeless.

“Using that money as a credit to philanthropies that are really good at getting people out of shelter and into permanent housing for cheaper than the city," Spady said.

He points out that Amazon is building a women's shelter into one of its new buildings.

The Schwartz Brothers restaurant chain works with Farestart and Food Lifeline to provide jobs to homeless people.

Lindsay Schwartz acknowledges recent frustrations in doing business in Seattle, but remains devoted to the city.

“I wouldn't say I'm fed up because I love what I do. I think it's been more challenging in the last few years than it has been in the past and we need to find a way to deal with that,” Schwartz said.