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One reason the push back on the head tax was so strong

Amazon’s statement about the “head tax” touched on a point that I think is felt widely and which is a base concern of opponents of the head tax.

“We are disappointed by today’s City Council decision to introduce a tax on jobs.  While we have resumed construction planning for Block 18, we remain very apprehensive about the future creted by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here.  City of Seattle revenues have grown dramatically from $2.8bn in 2010 to $4.2bn in 2017, and they will be even higher in 2018.  This revenue increase far outpaces the Seattle population increase over the same period.  The city does not have a revenue problem – it has a spending efficiency problem.  We are highly uncertain whether the city council’s anti-business positions or its spending inefficiency will change for the better.”  Drew Herdener, Amazon Vice President

“A spending efficiency problem.”  It does feel like, even among very strong proponents of this policy, that the City of Seattle is not a particularly well run or accountable bureaucratic machine.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan acknowledged this perception, whether real or imagined, in a tweet storm she posted yesterday. The post included the statement, “I have heard Seattle residents loud and clear that they are concerned about whether our city is investing wisely, efficiently and responsibly.”  It was a validation of this concern.


This perception is particularly true regarding homelessness.  The “head tax” was billed as a tool to raise funds for homelessness, a problem that is perhaps one of the greatest failures of public policy in recent Washington State history.

But, funding does not appear to be the problem regarding homelessness.  With almost $200m going to address homelessness in the region, there is significant funding already in place.

In fact, according to Seattle’s own consultant on this matter, there is enough funding already in place to help families.  It’s just not spent well.  From the consultant’s report on homelessness:

Available funding is sufficient to rapidly re-house all family households currently using emergency shelter in a single year, and to house all long-term shelter stayers over a four year period using a combination of rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing. (Page 7)

Moreover, it is widely acknowledged that the best way to increase the housing stock rapidly is to upzone select urban neighborhoods to an increased density.  However, that process has been largely stifled by a city wide approach to zoning that gives every voice a concern, because potentially every voice (or many) could be impacted by zoning that applies city wide.  Seattle could move forward with zoning that was specific to targeted regions, so that voices and visions for the specific area were elevated rather than try to zone for the whole city.  It’s a difficult model to lead planning efforts.  If the Council wanted to use upzone as a solution, it could change the process for zoning very quickly.  It chooses not to.

So, for opponents, this isn’t just about the “head tax.”  This is in part about whether the City of Seattle is an effective, efficient tool to achieve policy ends, and whether this policy is one likely to address issues related to homelessness.  Opponents have well supported doubts.