In a debate last night on a broad range of issues, from affordable housing to the arena to what advice they'd give to the city that lands HQ2*, Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon, covered well-worn ground.
Moon called for stopping sweeps of homeless encampments, taxing real estate speculation, and building affordable housing on city-owned land. Durkan defended the sweeps, pitched free community college, and criticized Moon for proposing taxes Durkan says would need approval from the state legislature. Throughout the night, Durkan mostly ran circles around Moon with sharper answers and more specific proposals. Moon worked to paint Durkan as the candidate of big business. She called out Durkan's corporate backing, said Durkan is too reliant on the free market to provide housing, and promised to make Seattle's tax system more fair.
But on the only proposal currently in play to actually tax big businesses to fund services for people living on the streets, both candidates agreed: They don't support it.
Asked about a proposal from Seattle City Council members Mike O'Brien, Kirsten Harris-Talley, and Kshama Sawant to reinstate the employee hours tax to fund housing and homelessness services, both Durkan and Moon said they worry it could hurt small businesses.
The proposal currently before the city council's budget committee would charge businesses with "taxable gross receipts of more than $5 million per year" $100 per year per full time employee. That would hit only 10 percent of Seattle businesses, according to the council members who support it. The money raised would fund shelters, affordable housing, services for people living in vehicles, and an expansion of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.
But both Moon and Durkan doubt the tax would really only hit big business.
"I believe in what it is trying to fund," Moon said. "I don't think they did the math right yet on how to charge the tax." Moon said grocery or retail stores with high sales volumes but low profit margins could be covered by the $5 million threshold. She said she would prefer to base the tax on the number of employees instead.
Durkan, who has called for more shelters and an expansion of LEAD, offered no indication she'd support the tax, even if it was based on the number of employees instead.
"Yesterday, I had the chance to sit down with a bunch of small business owners on Capitol Hill—restaurants, some of the favorite places people like to go—and what I heard from them is there's too many times we pass these things with unintended consequences," Durkan said. "They are the types of people we want to keep them in our neighborhoods. Our small businesses are the engine of what we are, but this head tax could hit them very hard... We don't want another tax that's going to hit the wrong place."
Both the downtown-based Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce have come out against the idea. The Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Durkan and dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of her campaign. Moon's campaign, meanwhile, is in the red.
Watch the full debate here:
*Durkan: "Go Seahawks. That'd be my advice."