The COVID-19 crisis has made the faultlines in our healthcare and social welfare systems apparent for everybody. In response to massive unemployment and inadequate resources, Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales have put forward a bold initiative to tax big businesses so that our city government can fund an immediate local relief package, more green affordable housing, and good union jobs.
But, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Councilmember Alex Pedersen have used their platforms to criticize Sawant, Morales, and the Tax Amazon coalition rather than engage in productive conversations about identifying revenue to match the magnitude of the need. Critique without solutions is not leadership—it’s just lazy.
Additionally, discussion of the proposal has been stalled due to Governor Jay Inslee’s proclamation that only “necessary and routine matters” can be addressed by the city council until publicly attended meetings become viable. Seattleites need their mayor and city council to step up, not tune out. They need their governor to allow discussion of and votes on non-routine initiatives in a completely non-routine time, particularly if those non-routine initiatives provide necessary aid to working and low-income people.
Progressive taxation in Seattle is a meaningful solution to providing COVID-19 relief, to counter economic austerity, and to build a more resilient city for the future. If that’s not clear to leaders in Seattle, here are ten reasons they might want to spend less time criticizing Sawant and more time coming up with proposals to provide relief for Seattleites.
1) This is the most extreme economic crisis in recent memory. Seattlites are filing for unemployment and rent relief in record numbers, and the economic toll is disproportionately impacting non-citizens and communities of color across the city.
2) COVID-19 is amplifying already existing emergencies. It’s been 5 years since the city declared a homelessness emergency, and more than one-third of Seattlites were rent-burdened before the pandemic. Do city leaders expect a global pandemic to fix these problems without progressive taxation? Without action now, we’ll see even greater numbers of people losing their homes, living unsheltered, and without the means to take necessary steps to minimize exposure to the virus.
3) The federal government will not save us. The $1,200 stimulus checks are far from enough to cover average rent in Seattle, and it’s irresponsible for city leaders to shift responsibility to an administration that allows bad actors to game the systems designed to help those most vulnerable.
4) Our region’s biggest companies can afford to contribute. We have immense wealth in this region, the most regressive tax structure in the nation, and are not leveraging our financial resources to help working people. Business will never think it’s the right time to tax business. But our leaders are obligated to prioritize the long term security of their constituents over quarterly profits of multi-million-dollar corporations.
5) Small businesses and low-income people, unlike big businesses, have never been in more trouble. They are facing resource shortages and an uncertain future that looms larger than the end of the stay-at-home order.
6) We need a plan for recovery now and resiliency in the future. Several council members have suggested that passing bold legislation right now is nothing more than political opportunism. But we know that existing crises of inequality are being amplified by the pandemic and we need to act now.
7) Austerity policies are not an option. In a slowed-down economy, we need to be injecting capital and resources to stimulate economic growth, not slashing budgets. Resistance to progressive taxation is a tacit endorsement of austerity measures that will devastate working and low-income people.
8) Much as some city politicians may wish it, we are not going back to normal any time soon. This is the time for bold leadership, not petty criticisms, name-calling, and stall tactics. Ostracizing Sawant and Morales will not bring new jobs to Seattle, nor will it provide relief to those who are struggling.
9) Durkan and the city council have claimed that technical issues with the relief legislation made it impossible to discuss and implement during this emergency, but have yet to propose alternative solutions. Is that supposed to comfort those who can’t pay their rent, or have seen no income since the shutdown order was implemented?
10) We can’t afford to not act. The end of the stay-home order will not mean that the world will look the same as it did when we went into it, nor should it. Our elected officials need to act quickly and boldly to provide relief now, invest in progressive policies for the future, and to use progressive taxes to pay for it, rather than austerity policies that siphon resources away from those who need them most.
We need city leaders to step up and propose bold policies that address the current crisis and reverse systems of inequality that predated COVID-19. We urge Seattle residents to email their thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Kate Brunette is the treasurer of the Transit Riders Union and a resident of District 2. David Parsons is the president of UAW 4121 and a resident of District 1. Lucas Vargas Zeppetello is a member of 350 Seattle and resident of District 3.