Seattle voters, sign referendum to repeal head tax
Seattle voters now have a chance to remedy the city’s damaging head tax, a pivotal measure in the city’s long struggle to address homelessness.
A coalition of employers, called No Tax on Jobs, on Friday began collecting signatures for a referendum that should appear on November’s ballot. Signature-gathering locations are being shared on a Facebook page, No Seattle Head Tax.
About 18,000 verified signatures are needed by June 15 for the referendum to proceed. That would give Seattle voters a choice to reject a $275 per-job tax at midsize to large companies that would otherwise take effect Jan. 1.
A vote can send a message to the City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan that residents are fed up with the city’s bumbling response to the homeless crisis.
The people need to see progress and improved performance, not just massive spending increases every year.
One referendum backer is Saul Spady, who owns an ad agency and whose family owns Dick’s Drive-In. He said a vote is needed to engage the council in a productive conversation about how to better help the homeless population.
Residents and businesses are interested in “common-sense solutions on homelessness that are being used all around the country and the council is not.”
A vote would also tell city leaders they are out of touch with all the people they represent.
“It seems like they’re listening to a narrower and narrower band of people,” said Jordan Royer, vice president of Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which is supporting the referendum.
The poor and suffering in Seattle don’t need more progressive grandstanding, they need more efficient and humane services. An array of organizations delivering such services already has extraordinary funding, nearly $200 million a year across King County, for a population that point-in-time counts have found to be around 12,000.
The regional coordination system that connects homeless people with longer-term housing has numerous gaps in data collection, according to a May 1 county audit. That makes it unclear why many housing referrals fall through or are rejected by clients, extending wait times. The county pledged fixes, mostly not until next year.
In the meantime, why is Seattle increasing spending without knowing what’s working and what’s not?
Seattle also needs to prove that it’s following through on its plan to improve city services and stop spending on ineffective programs.
By choosing to spend millions more, before its plan is proven, Durkan and the council are making it impossible to hold them, city officials and service providers accountable.
The council justified this with a false Robin Hood tale about making big business “pay up.”
The nearly 600 companies facing the tax already pay heavily to provide 150,000 jobs in Seattle. They generate most of the city’s discretionary revenue and are responsible for much of the city’s economic activity.
Yes, The Seattle Times is among the companies that will have less to spend on operations if the tax goes into effect.
There’s more to the story. The success of a newspaper, like most local employers, depends on the success of the community it serves. That success is threatened not just by the head tax but by an accumulation of anti-business moves by the council.
Restaurateur Ethan Stowell said he’s particularly concerned about how the tax will make it harder for the poor to afford food, because it will increase costs at grocers.
While the council claims to be offering progressive solutions, “they continue to tax the very poor they are intending to help,” he said.
By ignoring such indirect effects of its actions, and repeated warnings about harming the business climate and job losses, City Hall is choosing to reduce opportunities to exit poverty.
Seattle voters must have a say. Sign the petition, vote in November and show City Hall how much the community wants real solutions — including more jobs — and not just more spending to help those in need.