On Wednesday, our movement took a big step forward when my Council office unveiled our draft legislation to Tax Amazon and big businesses in order to fund social housing, services, and the Green New Deal. I was especially proud that we brought the legislation forward alongside Councilmember Tammy Morales, who has agreed to co-sponsor it!
-sponsored legislation, the top three percent of corporations in Seattle, as measured by the size of their payroll, would pay an excise tax of 0.7 percent on their payrolls to fund new green-build, union-built affordable housing and conversion of existing buildings to meet Green New Deal standards.
The 800 biggest companies in Seattle would pay the tax; the remaining 97 percent of companies – about 22,200 – would pay no tax under the proposal. Non-profit organizations, public employers, and grocery stores also would be exempt, regardless of size.
The legislation would enable the city to:
•Build up to 8,000 new affordable, publicly owned or controlled homes over the next 10 years; and,
•Upgrade energy efficiency in up to tens of thousands of existing homes in the city to meet Green New Deal standards.
I’m excited to put forward this bold, transformative proposal along with Councilmember Morales. We all know that big business, the wealthy, and the political establishment will staunchly oppose this, and that we will need a powerful movement. If we win, this will not only help make our city affordable to working people, it will set a historical marker for cities around the nation.
As Councilmember Morales said at our joint press conference:
“I believe that this bill will give us a chance to fund our community priorities: Inclusivity — housing that can stop displacement; tax relief — turning away from regressive taxes like property and sales tax where the most vulnerable pay the most; and repairing the harm — bringing the people who are most impacted to the table, ensuring racial equity is at the center of this conversation.”
The crisis demands action
Today, we have an unprecedented homelessness crisis. Additionally, tens of thousands of people are at risk of being pushed out of Seattle by soaring housing costs. They are nurses, bus drivers, restaurant workers, baristas, mechanics, construction workers, teachers, and more. These are the workers who make our city run. Communities of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community are especially feeling the stress of housing displacement. Seattle’s Central District, the hub of the African American community a generation ago, is today less than 20% Black. Even tech workers are feeling the vice grip of a private housing market that has failed working people, with average rents in Seattle up 69% since 2010, far beyond the rate of inflation and more than double the national average. Today 46% of Seattle renters are officially rent burdened, and one-quarter of all homeowners – especially seniors living on fixed incomes and struggling with rising property taxes – are also at risk of being pushed out.
Companies here have reaped billions because Washington state has the most regressive tax system in the nation. It’s time for Amazon and other major corporations to pay their fair share.
$300 million for social housing and the Green New Deal
The $300 million tax proposal is similar in size to the 2018 voter-approved measure in San Francisco that taxed big businesses to fund housing and services.
Under this legislation from Councilmember Morales and me, 75 percent, or $225 million annually, would be spent on housing and social services. The housing would be built under union-designed community workforce agreements, with guarantees for apprenticeship opportunities, priority for local workers to be hired, and union wage rates. The homes would be publicly owned or controlled, and would be built to energy efficiency standards called for under the Green New Deal.
The investments will allow Seattle to build up to an additional 800 new affordable homes a year, on top of the 300 new homes that are funded annually on average through the Seattle Housing Levy.
The remaining 25% of the funding, or $75 million annually, would be spent on weatherizing existing homes, investing in renewable energy systems like solar, and converting homes that use home heating oil or fracked natural gas to electricity.
Strong, democratic accountability to working people
Councilmember Morales and I, along with our movement, want to make sure that working people have a strong, ongoing democratic role in how the social housing and Green New Deal programs are implemented.
Our legislation calls for the creation of a Social Housing Board, whose members are initially appointed but who eventually will be elected from each of the 7 city council districts. It’s critical that this housing program be democratically accountable to working people. Every year, the Social Housing Board will develop a funding plan, with broad public input, and will submit it to the City Council for a vote.
The Green New Deal work will be overseen by the Green New Deal Oversight Board, which the Council established last year with our Green New Deal resolution. Board appointments will happen this spring and the board should be up-and-running by summer. As with the Social Housing Board, we will fight to ensure that the Green New Deal Oversight Board members have an active role in developing the annual funding plan, and in particular, that they invite workers and their unions to develop plans to ensure a just transition for any jobs that are impacted by our change to a renewable economy. Under this legislation, we will ensure that workers have a strong and ongoing voice in the Green New Deal.
Big business is already fighting back – they want to preempt our Amazon Tax bill
Finally, I want to note that big business is pushing hard in Olympia – today, right now – to get the state legislature to preempt, or ban, our Amazon Tax. They are attempting, through backroom dealing, to give King County very modest taxing authority on big business, so that the county can potentially raise a small fraction of what is needed to build affordable housing – but only if the legislature agrees to “preempt,” or ban, Seattle from taxing big business.
While our movement welcomes any progressive revenue, and recognizes the state bill as an outcome of our pressure, we completely oppose any preemption or ban.
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.
I want to reiterate what I’ve told state legislators last week – if they dare to pass a ban, trying to stop our movement here in Seattle, then they should expect massive resistance from our movement, including protests and peaceful civil disobedience.
There are six more days in the legislative session. My office will continue to advocate, as we have been, against any state ban.