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Seattle Councilmember Sawant unveils payroll tax idea while defending herself against ethics violations

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant could face thousands of dollars in fines for ethics violations surrounding her new 'Amazon Tax' proposal.

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant believes she did not do anything wrong while rolling out a plan for a new ‘Amazon Tax.' 

She formally unveiled the proposal Wednesday during a press conference at Seattle City Hall. She says her plan would bring in an additional $300 million in revenue, using a 1.7% payroll tax.  

During the event, the council's longest-serving member showed how she believes her plan would build 8,000 new affordable, publicly owned homes over the next 10 years, and retrofit 47,000 others to meet the city’s climate needs. Sawant says the payroll tax would impact the 825 of the city’s biggest companies.

However, her plan has not been formally introduced as draft legislation and the rocky unveiling has left her in trouble with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. The organization formally charged Sawant on Monday, alleging she used city resources for non-city purposes. 

It specifically cited usage of flyers, with her city letterhead, gathering support for a voter initiative, or in other words, using taxpayer funds for election purposes.

Sawant denied any wrongdoing on Wednesday, after dodging the question multiple times from KING 5. She claimed she reached out to the EEC Chair Wayne Barnett to make sure she'd done nothing wrong. We contacted Barnett Wednesday, who said that was "not accurate." 

RELATED: Seattle Councilmember Sawant charged with violating city law in push to 'Tax Amazon'

Barnett said his office did reach out to Sawant on January 28 to note its ethical concerns and nothing changed, which is what led to the charge. 

Sawant could face a $5,000 fine for each count if the commission finds she violated city laws. 

As for Sawant's proposed legislation, there is a spark in the ashes of the Head Tax, to do something to generate additional progressive revenue.  

House Bill 2907 is in front of the State Legislature and would allow King County to create a payroll tax. 

The Seattle City Council also now has two members, Teresa Mosqueda and Tammy Morales, who have signaled support for revisiting the progressive revenue issue. 

Lisa Herbold, who helped write the Head Tax legislation, said in a statement that the proposal is about eight times what is in HB 2907. She did hope the discussion would lead the state to increase the percentage of payroll tax in any legislation, to meet the needs in Seattle.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has backed HB 2907 and issued a statement in response to Sawant’s idea.

"We need a new, progressive business tax to help our most vulnerable communities, which is why I worked on a plan in Olympia that has the broad support from labor, community advocates and even some in the business community who want to tax themselves to address our homelessness and housing crisis,” Mayor Durkan said, adding, “I believe that big businesses can and should pay more to address our challenges, but this proposal that is six times bigger than the failed Council head tax proposal is not a plan that I can support. Being progressive means actually making progress. While slogans are nice, a failed, divisive fight that is high on rhetoric but low on outcomes, or one that funds lawyers instead of housing, is not an actual solution.”

RELATED: Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant proposes Amazon tax