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Sawant: Tax Amazon Movement Activists Unveil Council Resolution, Speak Out Against Threats of a Seattle Amazon Tax Ban (Preemption) in House Bill

Remarks (as delivered)

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), with union members, faith leaders, democratic party, socialists, and community members delivered remarks this morning at Seattle’s City Hall opposing any effort to insert preemption into HB 2907 and SB 6669: 

Thank you for joining us for this important press conference. As the movement that has been fighting to tax big business and raise progressive revenues to begin addressing the extremely serious social problems facing our city and region – we welcome any attempt to raise progressive revenues at the City level, the County level, or the State level. As a matter of fact, as someone who spends 18 hour days year after year, working for the movement, I would be nothing less than delighted if the State legislature were to announce today that they are going to pass every kind of big business taxation on the state level so that we can address all our problem – from the cutting of funding of public education, to the serious affordable housing crisis that we see from Seattle to Spokane; so that our cities didn’t have to fight separately.

“But that hasn’t happened, and so, we have the responsibility to fight for the maximum possible progressive revenues that we can achieve at the city level. In that spirit I would welcome any State measure that is able to increase progressive revenues to whatever amount. We fight for every dollar that we can get and every affordable home that we can build. Regarding House bill 2907, while it is extremely inadequate, we welcome the possibility of a $121 million rate at the county level.

But I want to step back from those numbers – for us to be much more conscious and understand the political calculus that is at play here. In 2018 big business, including the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, went all out against our city to prevent having to pay even ONE dollar. They went to war to avoid even one single dollar in taxation. Emboldened by the repeal which shamefully many Councilmembers and the Mayor engaged in, they went all out against progressive candidates, including myself last year, and they had hoped that they had in a permanent way defeated our movement. That did not happen, in fact, Big business suffered an overwhelming and historic defeat at the hands of our grassroots movement.

So my question is – why is it that big business, which went all out to avoid having to pay even one dollar in taxes – why would they be ready to pay anything close to $120 million? Leaving aside the fact it is extremely inadequate for our movement.

I want us to recognize the only reason, the sole reason, that big business would enter into an agreement of any kind of taxation on themselves, would be if they could get the real prize that they want to have. That is the so-called ‘preemption’. In other words, a state-wide ban on cities like Seattle raising our own big business taxes to the level commensurate with our city’s problems.

This is happening in the context of Washington state being the most regressive tax system in the county. That is to say that out of 50 states in the United States, our state comes 50th, dead last, in how much the tax burden lands on ordinary people and small businesses while allowing the corporate elite to enjoy a tax haven.

It is stunning in this context that Mayor Durkan, and politicians at the state legislature are working in the back rooms with big business, plotting to take away the very few remaining progressive taxation tools that we have.

“I thank the press for reporting on this, on HB 2907. And as I said, they call it preemption, which sounds neutral enough, but what it really is, is an anti-democratic state ban on progressive taxation, an anti-democratic ban on taxing big business. Right at the moment that the Tax Amazon movement is organizing to finally make them pay their fair share.

This I think is the bottom line political calculus. Because they lost overwhelmingly in last year’s election and because they know there is tremendous momentum behind a movement to bring together either an ordinance or a ballot measure on taxing big business this year. This is why we are seeing the conversation about a bill that would potentially raise a small amount and get the real prize for big business which is a ban on progressive taxation.

If this ban goes through it would be a historic attack on working people. Demanding they continue to foot the bill for everything, while the multi-millionaires and billionaires, with their stock options and all their executive privileges, continue to have their playground.

It is a disgraceful act by politicians, some of whom identify as progressives, to even talk about a preemption in the state with the most regressive taxation and make it yet more regressive.

Let’s be clear, if a state ban is allowed to pass it will be a ban on not only any ordinance or ballot measure this year in our city, it will be a state ban in perpetuity on our city’s ability to pass any progressive taxation. In other words, if we allow this preemption to go through we are signing up for having a ban forever and we refuse to sign up for this. We need big business to pay, not working people, not ordinary homeowners or small businesses.

That is why alongside our grassroots movement I am introducing a resolution against the proposed state ban on taxing big business at Monday’s city council session. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I am deeply disappointed that even elected officials who are progressive have not actually stood out clearly against preemption. I still urge them to, I invite them to speak very clearly against preemption and join me in supporting this resolution. I hope they change their mind and I hope they recognize this would be an attack on working people in perpetuity and it would be unconscionable.

I would also note for the press that Mayor Jenny Durkan who I met with this week, has been unwilling so far to speak out against the proposed state ban. I asked her personally many times ‘will you speak out against the so-called preemption or state ban?’ and I did not hear that she would. I welcome the media to question her about it, and welcome her to speak out against the ban and to join me in sponsoring the resolution that is coming up on Monday, but right now I am very afraid that she is prepared to cooperate with this anti-democratic attack against this City. It would be unconscionable for the executive of this City to do this…”

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