Like millions of people around the globe, I have had enough of the growing income inequality and social inequity that the Occupy movement has been calling out and standing up to. The extreme gap between the rich and poor, particularly in the U.S., threatens the foundations of our democracy. In a country where corporations are now considered persons and money spent on elections is now considered protected speech, we have to question whether the basic principles of open and transparent governance, of fairness and justice for all, and of one voice=one vote will still hold true.
The gap between the rich and poor increasingly threatens our individual and public health too, as the most recent CDC report on Health Disparities and Inequalities documents.
So what can we do about it in Seattle? One thing we can all do is join the movement gathering each day at Westlake Park. But the City Council can also take action.
The state and federal governments play significantly larger roles in contributing to the vast income inequality than the city with their greater authority for things like setting tax policies, regulating businesses and setting basic standards for workers, but there is no question that city government plays a role as well.
So the City Council is thinking about what city government can do to recognize and address some of the the social inequities the movement is highlighting. My contribution to this discussion is to focus on the areas of influence the city has, so I am working with my colleagues on the council to consider adopting the following:
A city review of its banking, investment, contracting, electoral and tax policies and practices and ensure that public funds are invested in responsible financial institutions that support our community.
In this review, the city would:
- Analyze policies to promote responsible banking with city funds and to ensure accountability and provide an incentive for banking institutions to invest more in our City, particularly with regard to the efforts of banking institutions to stabilize the housing market. This analysis should include options for changing city policy on where we deposit funds and investments.
- Analyze feasibility of a city contracting policy that requires businesses to maintain a specific maximum ratio of executive pay to line staff pay as a means of promoting equitable distribution of pay for businesses contracting with the City. (For example, if we choose 25:1 and the lowest paid employee at a contractor earns $40,000 per year, the CEO could make no more than $1,000,000.)
- Request a report on all City-generated tax exemptions to examine the impact of lost revenue to the City against the economic benefit the exemptions are intended to bring to the City, particularly with regards to the impact tax exemptions have on job creation in Seattle.
- Consider pursuing changes to State tax exemptions if they are not demonstrably meeting their intended goals of job creation, stimulating business activity, or having an overall positive impact on the State’s economy.
- Consider pursuing authority from the State to implement a revenue neutral, city-wide income tax that would reduce the regressive burden of our tax structure based on sales taxes in favor of a progressive structure that more fairly allocated tax burdens along ability to pay.
- Analyze how city election campaigns are financed, including understanding the impact of donations from corporations and possible ways to further restrict undue corporate influence.
So what do you think? Are we on the right track? What else should we be considering? Leave a comment here, on my facebook page, or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call (206-684-8800) my office and let us know.
And, if you have some free time this weekend, head on down to Westlake and see for yourself what it’s all about. These pictures below are from last Saturday’s march and rally, taken by Josh in my office.