Bartell Drugs has joined the debate about whether to tax businesses to pay for homeless services.
The proposal, from Councilmember Mike O’Brien, received its first public review on Wednesday at a council budget hearing. O’Brien has proposed taxing businesses with over $5 million in taxable gross receipts, a $100 per full-time employee. O’Brien believes it will raise $25 million for homeless and housing services.
However, George Bartell, chair of Bartell Drugs, says “enough is enough." In a blistering email to the council on October 19, he said the council is making it hard to do business in Seattle.
He wrote: “I returned from a trip to find that there is a proposal for another, additional tax, on top of all of the other restrictions, requirements, and fees that have grown massively the past few years. Enough is enough.
"As a business leader I’m often asked what keeps me awake at night. I say: the City of Seattle’s actions that make it harder and harder to operate a business focused on serving our customers.” Bartell Drugs has been in business for 127 years.
His email continued. “While 'millions' might not be much for Amazon and Starbucks or the City, it’s definitely a big deal for us. And, with a head tax, and our warehouse and headquarters both located in the City, we will face costs our competitors won’t.
"I urge you to abandon the idea of a head tax. We are a significant employer here in Seattle and we reached a breaking point on the City-imposed fees and costs. Instead, I ask you to spend the money already raised for homelessness prudently and effectively and that you continue to partner with the significant number of non-profit organizations that are rallying to confront this issue.”
However, O’Brien said Wednesday, “Sitting around the table and talking more about this is not what we need right now.”
There was significant opposition during a pair of hearings on the issue. In addition to the employee tax, council members are considering language to ban or limit sweeps of unauthorized encampments and spend other money on RV encampments.
“I would ask you to work with me - of rather than shoving a head tax down the throat of local businesses,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who has been an advocate for the homeless and homeless services.
Her colleague Kirsten Harris-Talley said, “It hurt my heart to hear it.” She expressed her support for the concept, in addition to Councilmember Kshama Sawant.
Besides Bagshaw, council members Debora Juarez and Rob Johnson also said they could not support the legislation. Both mayoral candidates, Jenny Durkan, and Cary Moon, also said during a televised debate on Tuesday that they could not support an employee tax.
The council will not make a vote on the budget items until next month.