In a Budget Committee briefing Tuesday, the Seattle City Council narrowly passed an incredibly small increase to “JumpStart,” the City’s payroll tax on big business, that will generate an additional $20 million to pay for mental health counselors in Seattle Public School. Council Members Sara Nelson, Dan Strauss, Alex Pedersen, and Andrew Lewis all voted against the increase of less than one-twentieth of one percent that will hopefully help children kill themselves less often.
Those four council members, joined by Council President Debora Juarez, tanked an earlier proposal to hike the tax and raise $40 million to pay for wage increases currently under negotiation between City workers and the Mayor. They also rejected a measure to increase JumpStart revenue by $60 million to pay for both expenses.
Council Member Kshama Sawant, the sponsor of the three amendments, said that the dissenting members made it abundantly clear to working people that they serve the profits of big businesses rather than the basic needs of children in public schools. In her closing remarks, she warned that the council will only get cozier with corporations. With big business successfully buying the election last month, the only tried-and-true progressive left on council, Council Member Tammy Morales, will have an even harder time filling the looming $500 million budget deficit, as the incoming council will likely use its majority to block tax increases, allowing corporations to continue hoarding wealth built on the backs of working people.
CM Sawant proposes a "tiny fraction" raise to JumpStart to fund $40M to pay for wage increases City worker negotiate and $20M for mental health counselors in public schools. The council will get to vote on the increase for the 20M +40M and then on each individually: pic.twitter.com/UuTiYcgriX— Hannah Krieg (@hannahkrieg) November 14, 2023
Right now, big businesses pay a tax on their payroll of somewhere between 0.7% and 2.4%, depending on their size. Sawant’s most ambitious proposal, “amendment one,” would have raised $60 million by increasing those rates to 0.75% to 2.55%.
At the meeting, Sawant and her co-sponsors, Council Members Lisa Herbold and Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda, implored their colleagues to pass amendment one. Both mental health and labor desperately need additional funding. After the shooting at Ingraham High School last year, high schoolers lobbied the City Council for additional funding to pay for one counselor for every 200 students instead of one for every 350. As for wages, the Mayor’s bargaining team offered City workers offensive raises of 1% to 2.5%. If the City had more money earmarked for wage increases, then the Mayor would have a harder time screwing over workers in their ongoing contract negotiations.
Still, the council voted against that measure, 5-4, with no explanation from the opposition.
Sawant, compromising in the way that all you nerds insist she must, lowered her standards twice before Juarez flipped sides and passed the amendment to raise $20 million for mental health counselors alongside Herbold, Mosqueda, Morales, and Sawant.
The dissenting council members did not say much in the meeting. Juarez, who voted yes, came to their defense. She said that voting against taxing big business does not make anyone “cowardly and spineless and watering things down. It's just a matter of principle where we can agree to disagree.”
By “principle,” Juarez does not mean a principled stance against taxes—just a principled stance against paying for the needs of children and workers with Jeff Bezos’s pocket change. After all, the council hiked up the cost of parking, a regressive tax on working people, without issue in the very same meeting.
Nelson, who will lead the ranks next year, said that she understands Seattle children need better mental health services, but she encouraged “sitting down” with both sides before taxing big business. Nelson should know that business, namely the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, vehemently opposes new taxes and even lobbies against existing ones. So the City has no reason to believe that “sitting down” with both sides, as they have already done, would change the Chamber’s long-held position.
The dissenting council members did not respond to requests for comment. This comes as no surprise. No one wanted to talk when they voted against Sawant’s proposal for a $140 million JumpStart increase last year, either. At that time, some council members claimed that her proposal failed because she did not introduce it soon enough. In retrospect, those council members may have skipped Sawant’s proposal to keep their favor with powerful pro-business donors ahead of the 2023 election.
But now they can’t hide behind the veneer of respect for the legislative process or playing a good guy with his hands tied in an election year. Flatly, these council members just picked big business over children.