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Seattle to decide on business tax to fight homelessness

Seattle to decide on business tax to fight homelessness

The unanimous vote in favor of the amended tax proposal occurred at a raucous public meeting at which advocates for the homeless and affordable housing - some holding placards saying "Tax Amazon" - argued in favor of a stiffer tax on the company and other businesses.

That's down from the $75 million a year the original proposal would have generated by imposing a $540 head tax per employee for the next few years, after which it would be converted to a 0.7% payroll tax.

Almost 600 employers with gross revenues of more than $20 million - including Starbucks and Amazon - will be expected to pay the charge in Seattle from next year onwards. So the city is restricted in how it can raise revenue, and now relies on sales and property taxes as well as a business and occupancy tax.

A parade of hardhat union workers and threats from hometown-behemoth Amazon did not stop Seattle leaders from passing on Monday a "head tax" meant to fund housing projects and homeless services. That's down from the original $500 per employee proposed by Councilors Lorena Gonzalez, Lisa Herbold, Teresa Mosqueda, and Mike O'Brien, which drew Amazon and Durkan's ire. Sawant was the only councilmember to vote against cutting the per-employee cost from $500 to $275 at Monday's meeting.

"There is no way this tax will be a burden on big businesses in Seattle", Sawant said, slamming the mayor for siding with "Amazon billionaires". Under the amendment, the tax expires after five years with the option to renew it. Kshama Sawant was the only councilmember to vote against the amendment, but voted in support of the final tax after the smaller version was approved by her colleagues.

Herdener noted that the company, which has embarked on numerous efforts to help alleviate the homeless problem, has resumed its construction on a new 17-floor office tower, which it had paused ahead of the vote.

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In the meantime, Amazon, Starbucks, and the other approximately 3% of Seattle businesses that will be dinged in the process have some time to start saving up. "We have a lot more work to do". "Because every city is facing a housing and homelessness crisis". United Way of King County spent around $6.5 million in 2017.

"By threatening Seattle over this tax, Amazon is sending a message to all of our cities: we play by our own rules", the officials wrote.

But the city says homelessness is a moving target.

Mr. Hederner, the Amazon vice president, said sharp increases in the city of Seattle's revenues have outpaced the population growth of the city during the same period.

It would only impact businesses with over $20 million a year in gross revenue. Past year the city spent $68 million on homeless services.

Some council members acknowledged it wasn't enough to address urgent housing needs but conceded they couldn't get the six votes needed to override a potential veto by the mayor. Separately, the company has committed more than $40 million to two groups: the Mary's Place shelters for homeless families, including space in company buildings; and the FareStart non-profit organization for homeless and disadvantaged men, women, and kids, including space and equipment for FareStart restaurants.


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