Sawant’s committee will meet next Thursday; ‘the central question is who pays for the COVID crisis – big business, or working people?’
SEATTLE – Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, issued the following statement today following a morning press conference, detailing steps she is taking in response to the announcement by Council President González to put a stop to all meetings related to the Sawant-Morales Amazon Tax legislation, a decision supported by the rest of the city’s Democratic establishment:
A. Working people are angry at the political establishment.
Community members are angry at the City Council Democratic establishment using legal excuses to cancel the Tax Amazon committee discussion and vote.
The Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, PSARA, a grassroots organization that has been active in the labor movement, and has been fighting for older Americans, their children and their families for the last 25 years, wrote:
PSARA urges you to move forward with the payroll tax on the city’s largest businesses proposed by Council members Morales and Sawant. . . . Now is the time for action, not for handwringing. Pass the Morales-Sawant tax proposal and fund COVID-19 relief, affordable housing, and union jobs in the green economy.
The argument that our virtual, open, filmed, broadcast, recorded council meetings are not open enough, justifying cancelling those meetings in a backroom deal, and claiming this is in defense of open public meetings, is truly Orwellian.
This argument is being led by Councilmembers Herbold and González, who were among the politicians who conspired behind closed doors to repeal our movement’s hard-fought Amazon Tax in 2018 in another backroom deal, in flagrant violation of the principles of open meetings, being taken to court, and then having to settle the case with paying taxpayer money. This is all just smoke and mirrors. It’s an attempt to tie up the movement without saying they’re doing the bidding of big business.
As Attorney Dmitri Iglitzin said in our press conference Friday morning:
The argument that a virtual meeting violates the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) is simply not right. The purpose of the OPMA of course is to make sure that the public has access to, and is able to, observe agency meetings, in this case is able to observe the City Council, and as we all know, a meeting being streamed on Zoom that can be watched by thousands of people, provides more public access than a traditional meeting held in city hall that only people that can get off work, get downtown and deal with parking, can actually attend. No one can plausibly say that a virtual-only meeting breaches the OPMA. It precisely accomplishes the goals of the OPMA and no court has ever even hinted that you can’t have a virtual meeting. In fact, the Attorney General admits that all kinds of public meetings take place virtually by telephone or now by Zoom throughout the state. That is routine.
B. Our movement won’t be stopped.
Accordingly, the City Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, which I chair, will meet by Zoom and livestream next Thursday May 21, at 6:00PM, in a public meeting, with full public oversight and involvement, to continue important discussions on the Tax Amazon legislation sponsored by me and Councilmember Tammy Morales. The committee will also discuss how renters are getting organized building by building, and how we can fight for a full suspension – without consequences – of rent, mortgage, and utility payments, making the big banks and billionaires pay for this crisis:
City Council Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee meeting
to continue discussions on our Amazon Tax to fund COVID emergency aid, jobs, housing, and the Green New Deal
Thursday, May 21
We look forward to full participation by committee members and the public in these important proceedings.
C. The political establishment is hiding behind faulty legal arguments to protect big business.
My office, and our movement, totally reject the alleged legal reasons from Councilmembers González and Herbold and others in the establishment in demanding that committee discussions on the Amazon Tax legislation be shut down because it doesn’t meet the criteria in the Governor’s proclamation of necessary legislation to respond to the COVID emergency.
First of all, the governor’s order itself is illegal, because the governor does not have the right to tell city councils what they can and cannot discuss and vote on. As Attorney Iglitzin noted at our press conference:
The Governor has attempted to exercise his emergency power to prevent local governments from doing their job, which is to evaluate and enact legislation. It’s actually a little shocking, and it’s also clearly legally unsupportable if you take a look at the statute that gives the Governor emergency power – RCW 43.06.220. The governor has a lot of power to prohibit things in the interest of preserving and maintaining life, health, property or the public peace. But telling Seattle City Council what topics it can and cannot legislate about, what kinds of topics it can and can’t have a public meeting about – is clearly not necessary to help preserve life, health, property or the public peace.
Furthermore, we also find stupefying Councilmember González’s claim that our Tax Amazon proposal to invest $125 million a year in Green New Deal residential projects, and $375 million a year in new, social housing, which will create and support thousands of jobs, is somehow not COVID-19-related legislation. Joblessness is one of the key features of this major crisis, which is going to be more like a depression than a recession. It’s insulting to the intelligence of working people in Seattle, more than a hundred thousand of whom have lost their jobs in the last 8 weeks due to COVID.
To recover from COVID, they need jobs – precisely what our Tax Amazon investments provide, in addition to better homes, more affordable social homes, and reduced pollution.
Let’s be very clear here: The Democratic political establishment is trying to use the cover of legal arguments – and not very competent ones, at that – to try and quash our growing movement and protect big business from taxation.
D. The central question is who pays for the COVID crisis – big business, or working people?
In a time when so many workers have lost 100 percent of their paychecks, our Tax Amazon legislation would require Amazon and the biggest 2 percent of businesses to pay a tax that comes out to less than 1 percent of their Seattle-based budgets. That’s it. They get to keep the other 99 percent of their income.
These companies are the richest in our city, many are the richest people in the world, and they can pay. We’re talking about not just Amazon whose revenues have skyrocketed under COVID, but also
- CBRE, the largest commercial real estate and investment firm in the world with annual revenues over $20 billion;
- the Seattle Mariners, whose owner is worth $1.1 billion;
- big online companies, who have seen their businesses skyrocket since the pandemic struck;
- big downtown law firms, like the international firm Perkins Coie, with nearly 300 lawyers in Seattle alone;
- and Nucor Steel, the largest steel manufacturing company in the United States, which has recorded billions of profits in recent years, and whose CEO was paid $19 million last year – interestingly about the same amount of money that the company received in federal tax breaks.
In trying to stall our Tax Amazon legislation, the Democratic political establishment is protecting these companies, their profits, their power, at the expense of ordinary working people, who today are struggling to survive this pandemic. They are trying to stop a small fraction of the enormous wealth of these corporations from being put toward urgent social needs.
They’re saying the profits of Nucor Steel are more important than the needs of nursing home workers; that protecting the tax haven of billionaire baseball team owners is more important than providing diapers and food to mothers and children in our Central District.
The question before us today is not about legal interpretations, but rather who will pay for this crisis – big business and the wealthy, or working people? That is the question before our city, and that is what we will be discussing with the community at next Thursday’s committee meeting.