Seattle City Council repeals Head Tax on businesses

With the Head Tax repeal, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan admitted it will at the very least cool down some heated, angry rhetoric around the tax. People who opposed the tax claimed victory Tuesday.

KIRO 7 had a long-ranging interview with Durkan about the tax. She says city hall needs to work with partners to deal with homelessness.

Durkan was not clear on any new tax or new revenue source, saying work needs to begin with local, state and federal partners and many other groups to secure funds and help.

Durkan says if there is one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that help is needed for those living on the streets of Seattle,. “Whether it’s business, labor community groups (or) neighborhoods, everybody wants this to get better. I believe if we can channel those passions to the positive instead of the negative we can see real progress.”

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She also admitted that a referendum would have been extremely divisive. The camps fighting both for and against the tax over the last three weeks had gotten into heated confrontations. Durkan says the signatures gathered for a referendum on the head tax, plus input from even more constituents, brought pressure on city leaders.

“It was clear that enough of the city didn’t support it and my job as mayor is to listen. We listened now it’s time to hit reset.”

Durkan also denied there was any back-room deal, saying robust debate helped to change minds,. "It became clear that this referendum was going to be incredibly divisive if you saw the passion in the last three weeks. It was clear that it united a lot of passions and divisions… people would 
have been in various trenches instead of working together to fix the solution. I need everybody at the table the city needs everybody at the table."

Durkan made it clear she certainly didn't want political trench warfare on a public vote for Seattle's Head Tax.

She supports the council's change that ended the tax to fund homeless services. She also says criticism of the city and its spending to deal with the homeless is valid and the city needs to be more transparent. “We’ve got to earn that trust, we’ve got to show them how we’re spending that money not just on homeless services but on everything else we do.”

The mayor says a government that listens to people is a good thing,. “People today want to know ‘is our government hearing? Are they listening to us? Are the willing to step back when we think they need to go in a different direction?' That’s what we did today.”

Durkan said a significant amount of spending is already in the pipeline for initiatives to deal with the homeless. She says now is the moment to harness a variety of resources. She cited a recent transfer by Washington State to King County of $40 million for behavioral health as one example of the type of funding that could be tapped.

She also said communication with business leaders made it clear they may offer help on the issue. “A lot of businesses have stepped up in the last two weeks to say we don’t like the Head Tax but we want to be part of the solution.”

Amazon officials said the repeal was the right decision although Seattle City Council Council member Teresa Mosqueda disagreed and said big business had a chance to be part of the city's process. “They (city leaders) brought folks to the table. They created a task force, they invited large business, labor … to the table and large business boycotted.”

At Fremont Brewing, where opponents to the Head Tax gathered to celebrate the repeal, debate still raged about the controversial tax. Some business owners say they couldn't boycott the process since they were never asked to take part.

Sara Nelson is co-owner of Fremont Brewing and while she would not have been hit by the tax, she was not in favor of it and says she had not been invited by city leaders to offer her opinion. “There did not seem to be any discussion or desire for discussion with the business community about whether or not this was a good thing.”

Contractor Bob Toepfer also says he was never asked to be in the discussion. “I have no idea why the city didn't reach out.”

Nelson says the city has a problem gaining public trust for its initiatives, especially the ones that are trying to house the homeless. “So much money has gone to a problem that is only getting worse. That speaks to a crisis of accountability.”

Toepfer says his next step is simple: “Vote in city council (members) that agree with the constituents.”