Seattle taxes businesses to fight homelessness

Los Angeles (AFP) –


The City Council in Seattle, home to Amazon, Starbucks and other major companies, has passed an ordinance that would tax businesses in a bid to fight homelessness.

The legislation, passed on Monday by a 9-0 vote, would impose an annual tax of $275 per full-time employee on companies with revenue of more than $20 million.

The council had initially planned a tax of $500 per year per employee but Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan had threatened to veto the legislation.

According to the council, the tax will generate $47 million a year and affect nearly 600 businesses -- about three percent of the total in the city, the largest in Washington state.

The tax will end in December 2023.

"Our goal is to have a successful and vibrant business community -- one of the best in the country -- and at the same time, assist our most vulnerable and strategically invest in affordable housing," council president Bruce Harrell said in a statement.

"This tax contributes toward the long-term solution of affordable housing, while giving immediate attention and resources to fund shelter services, so those living on the streets tonight can find a dry, warm and safe place to stay," said council member Sally Bagshaw.

Former Seattle mayor Edward Murray declared a "state of emergency" on homelessness in 2015, a year which saw 45 homeless people die on Seattle streets.

According to The Seattle Times, there were more than 11,600 homeless people in King County in 2017, putting Seattle in the top 10 US cities in terms of numbers of homeless.

The newspaper quoted Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener as expressing disappointment with the City Council's move.

"We are disappointed by today's City Council decision to introduce a tax on jobs," Herdener said.

"We remain very apprehensive about the future created by the council's hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here," the Amazon spokesman said.

Amazon employs an estimated 45,000 people in Seattle and is currently searching the country for a second headquarters.