Two years after the head tax debacle, in which a measure to tax big business was passed and then quickly repealed by the Seattle City Council, Councilmember Kshama Sawant will test whether Seattle is ready for another big business tax.
It's not exactly Head Tax 2.0, though. This time Sawant has another card up her sleeve: a ballot initiative for the November election in case "City Hall fails to act."
Freshly re-elected, Sawant symbolically announced her "Tax Amazon 2020" movement at the Central District's Washington Hall on Monday, right after she took her oath of office on stage.
Sawant's path to re-election was bumpy, laden with attacks from all angles (and from districts in which she wasn't even running). But then, just two weeks before the November election, Amazon donated $1 million additional dollars (for a total of $1.5 million in that election) to the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy PAC, run by the Sawant-opposing, big-business-friendly people at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
The huge donation ended up backfiring. It sparked outrage among Seattleites who didn't like the idea of Amazon trying to buy a local election, and it appeared to help Sawant eke out a victory against her well-funded challenger, Egan Orion.
At Washington Hall, Sawant made the announcement that her city council office, which she considers another arm of her movement, will be introducing legislation to try and levy another tax against Amazon and big business in Seattle—hopefully forcing the rest of the council to take a vote on the measure.
A standing ovation in Washington Hall as Sawant takes her oath of office. She was the only elected/re elected council member to not take her oath of office at City Hall last week, instead reserving it for this event where she will also launch the Tax Amazon 2020 campaign pic.twitter.com/l1KLfOIDfF
— nathalie graham (@gramsofgnats) January 14, 2020
While she isn't sure about the details yet, Sawant has assured her followers that her legislation will "not be a tax on workers, it will not be a tax on small businesses, and it will not be a tax on jobs."
She is looking to raise somewhere from $200 to $500 million annually from the tax, which is, as Q13 notes, about "four to 10 times more expensive than the 2018 head tax." The original head tax would have raised an average of $47.5 million per year.
Sawant said that this is "like pocket change" for the billionaires being taxed. The money would go toward expanding social housing funding in Seattle.
However, she is prepared for the city council not to side with her completely. "It is not enough to put your trust in progressive political officials," Sawant said, because even "well-meaning politicians" back down under pressure. "Good intentions are not good enough when you are an elected representative."
So, simultaneously with her council legislation, Sawant will be drafting a ballot initiative that will bring the issue to the people for a vote in November.
Sawant's colleagues are lukewarm about this particular tax. While there is no actual bill from Sawant yet, Councilmember Lisa Herbold told the Seattle Times: “I don’t think targeting Amazon is a successful political strategy.”
Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who represents District 7, where Amazon resides, told The Stranger that he doesn't think "we should ever make it personal."
Lewis will be chairing the council's Select Committee on Homelessness and Housing Affordability and believes in finding new progressive revenue sources to establish more "permanent supportive housing to make progress on homelessness."
But, Lewis said, "my job now is to be focused on solving problems, not to be engaging in ad hominem attacks against any constituent." Amazon, it's worth noting again, could be considered one of his constituents in this instance.
"I'm not coming in here to gouge Amazon," Lewis said. "I'm looking for them to pay their fair share like any similarly situated taxpayer, without me spitting in their eye."
Going forward, the name of the game for the "Tax Amazon 2020" campaign is grassroots organizing.
Sawant was joined at Washington Hall by Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the Working Families Party, who helped organize the fight against Amazon's HQ2 in New York when the online behemoth backed out of its planned-second headquarters location under public pressure.
"That victory... showed that Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, can flinch," Sawant said.
According to Mitchell, the movement was successful because of "people power."
"We want to use our leverage as workers, as voters, that we have in order to hold Amazon accountable," Mitchell told The Stranger about the work left to do in Seattle. "If you’re going to be a community member," he said, referring to Amazon, "you need to be accountable to the community."
Despite the cold and the snow, the venue was packed and buzzing. The crowd erupted in cheers after Mitchell spoke.
"Together we're going to take on the richest man in the world and we are going to win," he shouted.