The end of the Tax Amazon stalemate is in sight. While Gov. Jay Inslee extended the proclamation on the Open Public Meetings Act that caused the whole drama between Councilmember Kshama Sawant, her legislation, and the rest of the council, he also made some changes that could clear a path forward.
Last month, the legislation from Councilmember Sawant and Tammy Morales was shelved after two full meetings and just days before there was supposed to be a vote. The reason? Inslee's proclamation restricted meetings that public agencies could hold to things that were "necessary and routine" or related to responding to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Legal interpretation from the Seattle City Attorney's office advised the council that Amazon Tax meetings didn't fit into either camp. There was debating, headbutting, and a rogue council meeting that didn't meet quorum.
The legislation would implement a 1.3 percent tax on the payrolls of companies that spend more than $7 million on payroll annually. It would send emergency cash assistance to households hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 and fund affordable housing and green buildings in the years after. Ultimately, it was stalled.
But now, the proclamation has been extended for two more weeks through June 17 and Inslee has widened its scope. Now, all types of meetings are allowed. Even more, the proclamation now specifies that remote and virtual meetings are a-okay ways for the public meetings to be held, so long as the public can tune in.
Sawant, who had argued this point when she plowed ahead with her own committee meeting on the legislation (which no other council members showed up to), was vindicated when she spoke in a council meeting on Monday.
"The political establishment has had to concede that the governor could not legally stop the city council debate on the Amazon Tax legislation," Sawant said. "Any pretext for delaying Tax Amazon legislation votes is gone and the city council must start immediately debating and voting on the legislation."
Council President Lorena Gonzalez originally recommended that based on the legal analysis the council had received, the Tax Amazon meetings should be put on pause. However, she had been lobbying the governor's office and working with the Association of Washington Cities to get the proclamation updated to be more flexible.
"I have been continuously advocating for modifications to the proclamation," Gonzalez told The Stranger, "so we at city council and other municipal governments can handle non-COVID related business that we had to shelf during the pandemic."
She had been working on the modifications since April. After months working under these restrictions, Gonzalez was grateful for some rules that were consistent with what she was advocating for and that the "governor's office rightly recognized that there are other ways besides in-person viewing that make our meetings viewable to the public."
"For the next two weeks," Gonzalez said, "it means we’re sort of back to business as usual."
It's probably safe to assume that the Tax Amazon legislation will be penciled in on the city council calendar soon. The council is having a meeting on a summer budget package on Tuesday and, if Sawant and Morales want to make a case for it, the Tax Amazon legislation could see the light of day again.
Judging from Sawant's comments in the council on Monday, she won't want to waste any time getting this in front of her colleagues.
"This month's delay results in $40 million in big businesses taxes the city will never collect and $40 million in COVID relief that will never be sent to needy households," Sawant said.