Can Bezos take the heat from a big business tax?
Can Bezos stand the heat from a big business tax? Timothy Kenney

The Seattle City Council is going to consider a new business tax to raise progressive revenue!

Today, the council only voted on which committee to refer the legislation to. That decision took almost an hour. There was finger-pointing and bristling and no one has even talked about what's in the legislation yet.

We're in for a wild ride, folks.

To back up: It's been about two years since the notorious employee hours tax, or head tax, was passed and then quickly repealed by the Seattle City Council. A new business tax—this time a tax on Seattle businesses with more than $7 million in annual payroll—has been proposed by Councilmembers Tammy Morales and Kshama Sawant.

The Tax Amazon legislation, as Sawant and Morales have called it, is a package of three bills introduced to the council today.

The legislation would put a 1.3 percent tax on the payroll of the 800 biggest Seattle businesses and, in doing so, raise around $500 million. In an effort to alleviate some of the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on Seattleites, the money from a tax for the remainder of this year—at this point around $200 million—would give 100,000 Seattle households $500 once a month for four months. In 2021, the full $500 million will be used to build social housing and to help buildings follow tenets of the Seattle Green New Deal.

But first, the council had to decide which council committee the legislation would be referred to.

Legislation has to be voted on and passed in a committee before it is heard and voted on in a full council meeting. Sawant wanted the legislation to be referred to the Sustainability & Renters' Rights committee that she chairs and Morales co-chairs. Sawant wanted her committee in charge "to allow the [Tax Amazon] movement to have a voice."

Other councilmembers were not too keen on this. There are only five members in Sawant's committee and she and Morales would make up two out of five of the votes.

Last week, Council President Lorena Gonzalez had already told Sawant no, she wouldn't be allowed to have the legislation heard in her committee. Instead, Gonzalez decided to refer Sawant's and Morales' "revenue legislation" to the Select Budget Committee chaired by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda.

"The Select Budget Committee includes all nine councilmembers," Gonzalez told The Stranger in an email, "and by previous unanimous consent of this Council, is approved to hear all legislation pertaining to revenue generation and the City's budget."

Gonzalez continued: "This legislation is, at its core, a revenue bill that is appropriately considered by the committee responsible for City finances."

Sawant still tried to get the legislation sent to her own committee. That motion failed. A motion by Morales to get the legislation sent to the budget committee passed unanimously.

"I’m sort of bristling," Councilmember Lisa Herbold commented, "at the idea that the only way we’ll pass a strong progressive revenue bill is if it’s in the committee of Councilmember Sawant. This is promoting the idea of a divided council." She didn't think that it was helpful, particularly in the midst of a crisis, to promote that picture of how the council does its business.

As expected, Sawant bit back. First, she clarified that the reason she wanted the tax to be heard in her committee was because of how the council flip-flopped on the head tax back in 2018.

"Many council members voted to repeal the Amazon Tax in 2018 and that was done by 7 of 9 councilmembers," Sawant said. She then named names. "Councilmember Herbold you were part of that; Council President Gonzalez you were part of that."

Sawant continued: "While I welcome your positive words now I think it’s very clear why the Amazon Tax should be heard in my committee. You all have a historic opportunity to show that the council is not divided."

In addition to those arguments, tax-averse Councilmember Alex Pedersen wanted to point out that just because he was voting for the legislation to be heard in the budget committee doesn't mean he supports the idea. He expects the legislation to bring up lots of "hearty questions," he said.

So, a business tax will make its way in front of the Select Budget Committee sometime in the future. The earliest it can be heard will be next week since, due to COVID-19, regular council committee meetings have been suspended. Special committee meetings can be called, but the council is trying to only do those on Wednesdays.

If the legislation fails, Sawant and Morales have also planned to introduce a Tax Amazon ballot measure.