Seattle passes scaled-back tax on Amazon, big companies

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In a compromise reached in the Seattle City Council on Monday, approval was given for a yearly "head tax" charge of $275 (€230) for each full-time worker at the city's major companies.

Representatives of businesses warned that the tax would drive employers out of town, while others speakers questioned whether Seattle's city government could be trusted to spend the additional tax revenue wisely.

Proponents on the city council reluctantly agreed to reduce the scope of the bills, which originally called for a tax of 26 cents per employee hour to raise about $75 million annually.

Sawant also called out Mayor Jenny Durkan for implying she would veto the original head tax proposal, calling her the "mayor of Amazon's billionaires".

Seattle has been in a civil state of emergency over homelessness since late 2015.

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Amazon raised the stakes when it announced it would halt construction planning on a 17-story tower near its hometown headquarters pending the outcome of the tax vote.

Meanwhile, median cost of a single-family house in Seattle rose 110 percent since Amazon opened its headquarters in 2010, according to The Seattle Times.

"This progressive revenue stream balances the needs of our small business community, while ensuring we have the funding we need to provide critical housing and health services", said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda in a statement accompanying the vote. The plan was supported by Lorena Gonzalez, who voted down another amendment on Friday that would have taxed businesses $250 per employee.

"By threatening Seattle over this tax, Amazon is sending a message to all of our cities: we play by our own rules", the officials wrote. A point-in-time count a year ago tallied more than 11,600 homeless people in King County.

In addition, the compromise legislation is set to sunset after five years, unlike the initial proposal, which had no end date.

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The Seattle metropolitan area also is home to the third-largest concentrations of homeless people, nearly 12,000 counted in a January U.S. government survey, and almost half of them were living on the streets or otherwise unsheltered.

Sponsors of the tax said Seattle's biggest-earning businesses should bear some burden for easing a shortage in low-priced housing that they helped create by driving up real estate prices to the point where the working poor and many middle-class families can no longer afford to live in the city.

"As a union rep, we meet with our employers to discuss our problems and come up with solutions jointly", Bufford said.

"They're driving this economic engine", he said. John Wisdom, 61, Seattle, a retired executive with PACCAR manufacturing, cited hundreds of millions of dollars already spent by surrounding King County to address the issue in recent years.

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