In the latest episode of their anti-tax campaign, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) wrote an op-ed for the Seattle Times, spoon-feeding talking points to the wealthy interests they represent and the politicians they bought. As the City stares down a projected $251 million shortfall in 2025 and a $498 million shortfall in 2026, the Chamber and DSA argue that the City has a “spending problem, not a revenue problem.”
This comes after the City tried for almost a year in its Progressive Revenue Stabilization Workgroup to find revenue streams that business, labor, and tax experts could all live with in effort to avoid a repeat of the last public fight big business waged against taxes. The Chamber tried to derail those discussions and ultimately won over the Mayor, who declined to propose any new revenue sources in the budget he sent to council for edits earlier this week. So now, in the coming deliberations the council must choose either to cower to the rich and powerful or save the City from more than half a billion in budget cuts in the next biennium.
Some members of the City Council clearly legislate on behalf of big business, and once middle-of-the-road members seem to bend more rightward than leftward in recent votes, so the "spending problem" may persuade them to vote against new progressive taxes.
But at least three of the nine city council members call bullshit. Well, Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda said the op-ed’s claims are “factually inaccurate,” but still. Bullshit.
Big, Scary Numbers
There is no denying that the City is spending more general fund dollars than it collects in taxes. But Council Members Mosqueda, Tammy Morales, and Lisa Herbold argue that’s not a spending “problem.” Rather, revenue decreased due to economic slowdowns while the community's needs continued to increase. Plus, the City will no longer be able to cover its ass by dumping revenue from the JumpStart payroll tax into the general fund, worsening the fiscal cliff in the next biennial budget. Mosqueda said that the Chamber should be well aware of this reality, as Chamber CEO Rachel Smith co-signed the Progressive Revenue Stabilization Workgroup’s report.
Smith and DSA CEO Jon Scholes seem to be aware of the mismatch in revenue spending and generation, but they have a vested interest in keeping spending down when some council members have their eyes on big business’ record profits to balance their books.
In their op-ed, they borrowed half a stat from the workgroup’s report: Between 2017 and 2023, the general fund revenue increased by 3.7% and City spending grew by 5.5%. That line conveniently leaves out the fact that the spending growth is “about equal to the compounding effects of inflation and population growth.” So the 1.8 percentage-point difference is not as alarming as the CEOs want the readers to believe.
The spending, according to the report, grew largely from the increased cost of labor. The same is true for the increased expenditures in 2025 and 2026 that the Chamber and DSA have their panties in a wad about. According to the report Smith put together, 85% of that projected expense growth is due to anticipated labor agreements. Another 4% is related to the City’s legal obligation to give human service providers a cost-of-living adjustment every year.
“Do the math; that’s not a ‘spending problem,’” Herbold said in an email to The Stranger. “That’s the City working to be a good employer to our public servants, all of whom kept serving the city in a pandemic, and some of whom have been working without labor agreements for years.”
I know it's hard for corporatists to pretend to care about workers, but the report also said some of that projected spending will go to hiring bonuses for cops, which they should like, right?
Stop Trying to Turn People into Corporate Shills
Smith and Scholes attempted to further scare the pearl-clutchers by pointing to an unspecified $300 million in new taxes that the City started collecting in 2021. Nice try at freaking out the average taxpayer, but that money came from big business, not from the average resident.
That 2021 tax, known as JumpStart, taxes Seattle’s biggest businesses—those with a payroll expense of about $8.1 million or more and with at least one employee that earns $174,000 or more—at a small rate of 0.7% to 2.4%. A dozen big businesses fund 80% of the tax’s revenue. Leaving out this context could mislead average taxpayers and rile them up to fight in Amazon’s best interest instead of their own.
Similarly, the op-ed writers bastardize the opinions of normal, working people to push their own agenda.
According to the Chamber’s recent poll, the directors wrote, 65% of voters do not trust the City of Seattle to spend their tax dollars responsibly. But this only strengthens the argument for progressive revenue. Voters don’t trust Seattle with their money, perhaps, but the poll didn’t ask whether voters trust the City to spend corporate tax dollars responsibly.
”We don’t have a spending problem, we have an inequitable tax structure,” Morales told The Stranger in an email.
Washington has one of the most upside-down, regressive tax structures in the country, meaning that the poorest bear the brunt of the tax burden. But the Chamber is fighting against new progressive revenue, which are taxes that target wealth. With more progressive revenue, the City could not only fill the budget gaps but also replace some of the sales taxes the City uses to fund its programs.
The same poll also found that 82% of voters don’t believe the City has an “effective plan” to address the big issues. But that call is coming from inside the house, babe, because the City’s plan is the Chamber’s plan so long as we have Mayor Bruce Harrell in office.
Finally, Smith and Scholes conclude their argument with a list of demands: 1) Make cuts. 2) Spend existing revenue on cops and the War on Drugs 2.0. 3) Be nice to business because it grows the overall tax base.
That’s funny, because both the Chamber and the DSA praised Harrell’s proposed budget even though it’s far from a hacking-spree. Nevertheless, Smith told The Stranger that the Chamber still likes his proposal because he made “modest changes” to meet their last two demands.
But, as is so often the case, no one really knows how to meet the first demand—not even the Chamber and DSA. When I asked Smith and Scholes to name programs they would like the City to raid, they did not give specifics. They only want the City to cut services that “do not meet measurable outcomes, are duplicative of other agencies or entities, are no longer aligned with people’s priorities, or have grown faster than real-world needs,” as they wrote in their op-ed.
Don’t get me wrong, huge money-sinks do exist in the budget –I can think of a $400 million one off the top of my head–but the Chamber and DSA don’t seem hungry to trim any fat off of the Seattle Police Department (SPD). And there’s probably some money to comb out of other ineffective, overgrown programs. But even then, Mosqueda says it won’t be enough.
“There is no way to realign our City priorities to the tune of $214 million in cuts each year for the next six years after 2024,” Mosqueda wrote to The Stranger. “Our City priorities and our community needs will not align with a future budget that assumes that level of cuts and coming austerity in the out-years. The future of our city residents and the sustainability of our community is too important to gamble on. We need new revenue–that’s not an opinion. It’s a fact.”