EDITORIAL | Tax the rich until they come up with a better solution

Seattle politicians seem to be in a constantly precarious position of somehow promoting the city as the kind of place big business wants to invest in while also addressing displacement and homelessness.

Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Kirsten Harris-Talley likely won’t be able to do both with their proposal to reinstate the head tax on large employers. Given the choice between the two, we’re going to side with policies that help the most vulnerable in this city. 

This 4.8 cents per hour per employee tax would affect businesses with gross revenues of more than $5 million a year — the top 10 percent — generating an estimated $24 million a year in revenues, or about $100 per employee annually. 

What’s the worst that could happen? Amazon pulls out of Seattle completely? Not likely. Furthermore, we don’t want to hear one boo-hoo from Jeff Bezos, who earlier this year asked people to give him philanthropic suggestions while he worked out a $13.7 billion deal to acquire Whole Foods. 

Then we have mayoral candidates Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon waffling on the topic of the head tax, with the former U.S. Attorney saying it’s likely small businesses could eventually be dinged. This is something the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce worries about, so it’s not surprising Durkan is following her marching orders there.

Moon is constantly talking about the need to get the math right, which really isn’t a position as much as it is skirting the issue, likely because there’s no right answer during an election. 

Frankly, we’re tired of living in a city where most working-class residents are one emergency away from housing insecurity, unable to enjoy all of the amazing features of this city because they’re too busy working or too cash-strapped, and saving up to turn over 70 percent of their income to their landlords. 

We have no doubt that the $50 million-plus Seattle spends to address homelessness is in need of some serious auditing to determine what nonprofits and organizations are truly making the biggest impacts. We also have no doubt that, even after shoring up how we divvy up those funds, we’ll still find the money we’re throwing at this problem isn’t enough.

It’s impossible to look at the housing affordability and homelessness issues in Seattle without pointing an accusatory finger (at least one) at the big companies that have poured into South Lake Union and Downtown, bringing with them an influx of new residents from out of state. 

We need more housing, but developers are not building for the middle-income residents looking to stay here. And the affordable housing incentives the city is currently pushing do nothing to encourage developers to build those units themselves. 

We need solutions to the housing and affordability crisis, and so far the public sector hasn’t been doing a bang-up job at it. Maybe hitting these private sector geniuses that are driving up the cost of living here in Seattle in their own pocketbooks will inspire them to come up with better alternatives.