Seattle “head tax” 2.0 lingers as state legislators seek expanded version for King County

Nearly two years after Seattle City Council’s dramatic (and ultimately failed) attempt to tax big businesses on a per-employee basis, Washington state lawmakers are taking a new approach–this time widening the tax net to encompass businesses in all of King County.

Like the City Council’s so-called “head tax” in 2018, the King County bill seeks a funding stream to build low-income housing and provide homelessness-related services like behavioral health treatment.

Had the council’s tax stayed on the books–it was repealed shortly after becoming law amid a public pressure campaign funded in part by Amazon–it would have raised about $47 million a year.

The renewed “head tax” push is part of the ongoing labor-versus-business struggle.

The proposed King County-wide tax, House Bill 2907, would generate as much as $121 million a year to tackle homelessness, according to

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine, who urged State Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle to sponsor the bill. Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, and 15 others are currently listed as co-sponsors.

Despite the fact Seattle would get about $40 million of the new tax, City Councilmember told the Seattle Times, it’s probably not enough to dissuade the council from pursuing its own separate tax as well.

Morales told the Seattle Times she views the county-wide tax as a potential move by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce to bypass plans by the council, which has been accused of being hostile to businesses. “We won’t be distracted by this bill. We will move forward with plans to assess another mechanism to meet our housing and Green New Deal priorities.”

Socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who was reelected in November, is pursuing a “Tax Amazon” campaign that could lead to a ballot measure, according to the Seattle Times, which noted that business leaders could ask state legislators to prevent Seattle from imposing its own head tax.

A recent report by consulting firm McKinsey & Company has put wind in the council’s sails, recommending an additional $450 million to $1.1 billion in yearly public funds, over and above the $262 million Seattle and King County are currently spending.

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