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My Letter to Democratic Washington State Legislators asking them to Stand Against Preemption or a Ban on Big Business Taxes

On February, 26, I sent this letter to the following Democratic Representatives and Senators in the Washington State Legislature calling on them to join Sen. Joe Nguyen and Rep Frank Chopp in publicly opposing preemption, or a ban on cities passing big business taxes to raise revenue: Senators Dave Frockt, Jamie Pedersen, Karen Keiser, and Jesse Salomon and Representatives Javier Valdez, Gerry Pollet, Sharon Tomiko Santos, Eric Pettigrew, Noel Frame, Gael Tarleton, Joe Fitzgibbon, Eileen Cody, Mia Gregerson, Tina Orwell, Lauren Davis, Cindy Ryu, Steve Bergquist, and Zach Hudgins.

Dear Washington State Legislator:

I urge you, as a Democratic state legislator, to join the growing number of city, county, and state elected representatives who publicly support taxing big business to address the unprecedented housing unaffordability and homelessness crisis in our city and state, and to oppose any ban or “preemption” by the State Legislature to limit municipalities from enacting these taxes.

Seattle’s working people are facing the worst affordable housing crisis in our city’s history. Communities of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ people are especially feeling the stress of housing displacement. The private, for-profit housing market has utterly failed working people, with average rents in Seattle up 69 percent since 2010 despite a years-long construction boom.

Consulting firm McKinsey & Company – not exactly a hotbed of socialist advocacy – estimates that the region needs, between $450 million and $1.1 billion each year for the next ten years.”

I genuinely appreciate any effort to expand progressive revenues. My office and Seattle’s Tax Amazon movement have been fighting to tax big business to fund a major expansion of social housing – publicly-owned, permanently affordable housing built to green standards and using union labor – for over two years. 

We support House Bill 2948 in its current form, which would create the authority for King County to raise big business tax revenues up to a maximum of $152 million annually, while noting that it would still be quite inadequate and that the region would urgently need additional big business taxes.

It is, however, with great dismay that my constituents and I have been hearing about a so-called “preemption” (ban)  clause in relation to HB 2948, and previously in relation to HB 2907. While a preemption clause is not included in the underlying bill as of the sending of this letter, we have been repeatedly informed by numerous lobbyists and legislators to expect it to be introduced as an amendment as the bill winds its way through the legislative process. 

A preemption clause would create a ban on cities like Seattle being able to make big businesses pay their fair share. It would snatch away the right of working people to address the deep social crises inflicted on us. It would represent an egregious selling out of working people and the most marginalized. If passed, it would do historic damage in our already highly unequal city and state. 

Opposition to “preemption” is growing, both at the grassroots and among elected officials.

I was proud earlier this month to co-author, along with State Senator Joe Nguyen, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales, and SeaTac City Councilmember Takele Gobena, the op-ed in The Stranger, A New Proposal Will Turn King County into a Tax Haven for Big Business. We Must Stop That From Happening.

On February 10, I joined the other Seattle City Councilmembers in a letter to state legislators unanimously opposing preemption.

I also was heartened to hear State Representative and former House Speaker Frank Chopp declare at a 43rd District Town Hall last Saturday that he opposes preemption. And especially commendable is State Senator Nguyen’s public position on this from day one. 

Please let me know if my office can add your name to the growing list of local and state legislators who are opposed to any form of preemption in HB 2948.

It’s clear to those following HB 2948 that most companies are dead set on including preemption, and are biding their time to declare their support or opposition to the bill at present, in order to maximize their ability to bully working people into accepting the ban.

I believe it is important for us to recognize that Mayor Durkan, King County Executive Constantine, and other corporate politicians, who have promoted this bill in concert with the Chamber of Commerce, Amazon, and other big business interests, are again representing the same big business and super-wealthy interests who fought tooth and nail against our movement in 2018 to avoid paying even a small tax. Their effort to buy last year’s City Council elections, which the voters overwhelmingly repudiated, was a continuation of that attack on working people. 

It is now only out of fear of our growing Tax Amazon movement that big business is reluctantly open to a small tax in King County, but only if they can win the real prize: insulation from any further taxes on them. 

I urge you to stand with the working people who are struggling with an ever-deepening housing crisis against this craven attack by the billionaires, by joining with the growing number of elected officials in making clear your opposition to any preemption poison pill.

I would also welcome you to join our Tax Amazon movement. Hundreds of activists have twice gathered in the last five weeks to discuss, debate, and democratically vote on our plan to tax big business to build social housing. The Tax Amazon coalition is a broad umbrella which has gathered renters, homeowners, union members, tech workers, rank-and-file Democratic party members, students, the elderly, people of color, immigrant and LGBTQ communities, Native communities, people experiencing homelessness, and small business owners.

Sincerely, 

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant

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