Sawant proposes corporate payroll tax on big businesses

SEATTLE — Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant unveiled details of her plan to tax big businesses to pay for housing.

Sawant has been calling for an ‘Amazon Tax’ on big businesses to fund new affordable housing and convert existing buildings to meet Green New Deal standards.

Her staff has yet to write the legislation, but her proposal includes a 1.7 percent corporate payroll tax on Amazon and other big businesses she says would bring in $300 million a year.

"It is not a head tax. It is a tax on Amazon and other businesses that form the top three percent of payroll in our city,” Sawant said at a Wednesday news conference.

According to a news release, 825 of the biggest companies in Seattle would pay the tax. The remaining 97 percent of companies – about 22,200 – would pay no tax under the proposal. Non-profit organizations, public employers, and grocery stores would be exempt, no matter what size.

“Companies here have reaped billions because Washington state has the most regressive tax system in the nation. It’s time for Amazon and other major corporations to pay their fair share,” Sawant said.

Under her proposal, 75 percent, or $225 million a year, would be spent on housing and social services. The homes would be publicly owned or controlled, and built to energy efficiency standards called for under the Green New Deal.

The remaining 25 percent of the funding, or $75 million a year, would be spent on converting existing homes that use home heating oil or fracked natural gas to electricity.

Sawant’s plan to raise $300 million stands in contrast to a plan backed by Seattle’s mayor, King County executive, and many large businesses for a tax that would raise up to $120 million.

The legislation to authorize that kind of county-wide tax is being considered in Olympia, but Sawant's Socialist Alternative group is concerned about a potential preemption clause that would keep cities from passing their own payroll taxes.

Sawant expects to formally submit the legislation to the City Council before the end of the month.