February 15, 2018
Dear members of the Progressive Revenue Taskforce;
CC: Mayor Durkan and Councilmembers;
Soon you will make your final recommendation to the City Council about taxing big business to fund affordable housing and homeless services. As you deliberate, the political establishment may urge you to confine yourselves to a narrow framework that does not deviate far from the status quo. However, as many of you know, that status quo is unacceptable to the more than half of the renters in the metropolitan area who are rent burdened, as well as the tens of thousands of people forced into homelessness, onto the streets, or out of the city by rising rents and insufficient services. You have an opportunity to bring serious proposals appropriate to the scale of the city’s housing crisis, and specifically a progressive business tax proportional to these problems.
I encourage you to recommend an Employee Hours Tax (EHT) on Seattle’s biggest businesses that will raise an estimated $200 million each year. While still less than what is needed, it would be enough revenue to build over 1,000 affordable homes each year, with several tens of millions left over to fund the needs of the city’s homeless and other essential services. Obviously big business will oppose this, as they did the $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave, the law banning rent increases with outstanding housing code violations, the tenant move-in fee cap and payment plan, and every other significant progressive step forward our city has taken over the past period. But the decisions of the City Council cannot be based on what big business finds palatable, and instead must be rooted in what is needed by working people in this city. These same big corporations are currently celebrating the windfall of Trump’s corporate tax cuts, and can certainly afford to pay if the City Council and Mayor demonstrate the backbone to pass a strong progressive business tax. Other revenue sources can and should be added, but we cannot allow vague promises of other, later progressive revenue as a ruse to avoid bringing in real revenue that is on the table right now with this proposed legislation.
Some will say that you are restricted by the resolution that created this taskforce to a mere $75 million annual progressive tax. But that is simply not true. The resolution that recommends the $75 million maximum is in no way legally binding. In fact, it was designed to limit the parameters of the debate and to compel the taskforce to bargain with itself rather than to bring the strongest proposal. It is your right to make whatever recommendation you think is best, without restriction or limitation.
For our movement which has fought for a progressive business tax for more than four years, it is a victory to have forced the City Council to form such a taskforce, and even the $75 million annual amount would represent a major step forward. But it would nonetheless be a serious mistake to restrict ourselves by accepting the resolution’s artificial cap. There is nothing legally stopping you from recommending a full $200 million in revenue per year – the number that was discussed during last year’s budget meetings and is supported by a broad layer of activists. At the public meeting this past Monday of the Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renters Rights committee, there was resounding support for a $200 million progressive business tax among the over 250 community members there in solidarity with women relying on homeless shelters and services.
A strong progressive business tax could have a huge impact on Seattle’s housing crisis and on the political direction of this city, as well as set a powerful example for the nation at a time when the Trump administration is gutting funding for vital services. Please be bold, and make the case for a progressive business tax that can make a difference in the lives of the people you represent. Thank you for your work on the taskforce, and for your support of affordable housing and homeless services.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant