González thinks Seattle will get sued if the council continues discussing the Tax Amazon legislation.
Councilmember Lorena González thinks Seattle will get sued if the council continues discussing the Tax Amazon legislation. LESTER BLACK

I don't know if this is the most Seattle thing I've ever seen in my life, given that I've seen a man sipping Starbucks while Solowheeling past a Black Lives Matter sign stuck into the front lawn of a McMansion, but this is certainly up there.

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On Thursday Council President M. Lorena González and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda pulled the Tax Amazon legislation sponsored by Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales, which would tax the payrolls of big business to pay for pandemic relief checks this year and then later on housing and Green New Deal infrastructure. The council's Budget Committee planned to vote on the tax next week, after two long meetings last month on the three-bill package.

According to the Seattle Times, Councilmember Lisa Herbold waved around a legal analysis from the City Attorney—one the council has yet to release to the public—and convinced González and Mosqueda that "many components" of the legislation were neither routine nor necessary to address the pandemic. Therefore, continuing to hold meetings on the package risked running afoul of the Governor's emergency proclamation barring agencies from "receipt of public testimony, deliberations, discussions, considerations, reviews, evaluations, and final actions" that aren't "necessary and routine matters" or "matters necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and the current public health emergency."

Since the legislation includes money for relief now and money for housing and GND stuff later—the latter of which, I guess, is somehow not "necessary" to address a housing crisis that will only grow after this pandemic because we could just embrace austerity and cut millions from vital programs—Herbold now suggests narrowing "the scope of the Sawant-Morales proposal to address only the current public health crisis," which is a nice way of preventing the tax from addressing the actual needs of the city, or postponing until the governor allows in-person meetings again, which will give big business more time and more leverage.

The tax is emergency legislation and therefore immune from referendum, so Mayor Jenny Durkan and seven council members would have to sign off on it. Durkan hates the tax, Councilmember Alex Pedersen hates the tax, and probably one or two or half of the others don't like it too much, traumatized as some of them are by their last effort to pass a single piece of progressive taxation for once in their lives.

The general hand-wringing in the Times about the fear of passing a tax while the public can only tune-in and comment remotely feels like a shallow government transparency argument being used as political cover for the members who don't want to tax big business, given that it seems like a direct appeal to the kinds of well-off single-family-home dwellers who hurled invective at the women on the council for not giving their undivided attention at a meeting to a white guy in a half-zip who yells about bikers pedaling too quickly.

That said, the Tax Amazon legislation isn't temporary, like the design review workaround the council passed last month, and the legal risk of addressing legislation that doesn't directly put a mask on someone's face also seems really real. But some decisions being made right now will outlast the pandemic. Though the decision wasn't subject to the Governor's proclamation, the Seattle Department of Transportation just announced they're going to permanently open 20 miles of streets to human-powered movement. So the fact that SDOT gets to roll out a new permanent rule during the pandemic while the council can't even have a meeting on a tax because part of it might extend beyond the pandemic is frustrating.

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But that said: who cares if they get sued for passing the tax? They'll probably get sued if they pass it even if they wait until the City Attorney's office is satisfied that the council is in compliance with the Governor's proclamation. At this point, any major progressive piece of legislation the Seattle City Council passes ends up in court. And sometimes they win!

Though González said in a statement she continues "to believe that the City Council should at an appropriate time deliberate on potential mechanisms to raise progressive revenue," some Seattle progressives worry this decision portends a stumble into austerity.

"I'm just crushed that Democrats within our city and at the state level are not embracing their role and obligation to help save people in need right now," said Summer Stinson, an economic justice advocate. "We're in need of homes, in need of jobs, in need of health care, in need of child care, in need of assistance. Now is the time at the state and city level to not chose austerity, or even stumble into it."