The life-span of the Seattle City Council's projected business payroll tax, or Amazon Tax, could be fairly short. Mayor Jenny Durkan does not support it.
Last week, Durkan talked to multiple news outlets about her opinions on the payroll tax proposed by Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales that is working its way through the council's Budget Committee. The legislation, if passed, would put a 1.3 percent tax on the top 2 percent of Seattle businesses' payrolls. That money in the short term would give four $500 checks to vulnerable local populations and people impacted by COVID-19. In the longterm, it would fund affordable housing and green infrastructure.
Durkan called it irresponsible. When she spoke on KUOW, I remarked that she sounded exasperated.
Durkan's office declined my request for comment, saying all the information on Durkan's opinion was already included in the article I wrote called "Jenny Durkan Really Hates the Amazon Tax."
Morales did not comment on Durkan's comments. Sawant did.
Before the pandemic started, Sawant had met with Durkan about the Amazon Tax, Sawant said, and "she refused to support it."
"I am not surprised in the least by Durkan’s position on the Amazon Tax," Sawant continued, "or by her brazen loyalty to the wealthiest at a time when the working class is absolutely reeling from the pandemic."
To Sawant, this lack of support isn't just about Durkan but "a question to the city’s Democratic party establishment as a whole." She cited Councilmember Alex Pedersen's negative op-ed in the Seattle Times (she responded here) and the three council members that voted to overturn the head tax in 2018.
Part of Durkan's resistance to the tax, according to her comments to other news organizations, is that money from the tax won't start coming in until 2022. In the interim, the plan is to use interfund loans from the city. Durkan questioned whether the council members could even have the authority to do that.
Sawant said that borrowing interfund loans and "using money that's not immediately in use" was a "standard internal bookkeeping exercise."
While the Tax Amazon legislation was written before huge shortfalls of up to $300 million were identified in the 2020 budget, Sawant said that she would "be supportive" if "the mayor or other councilmembers want to propose increasing the tax rate slightly" to address them. But, Durkan was adamant that "tax increases" would not fill any budgetary holes.
Currently, the payroll tax's next test will be the Budget Committee meeting on Wednesday. It has to be agreed upon there before it can even be put up for a vote by the full council and become law. Regardless of how those conversations go, the bill could be dead without the mayor's support.
There's an emergency clause in the bill that will make it go into action immediately in order to get emergency cash assistance rolled out starting in June. That clause requires three-fourths support from the council and Durkan's signature.