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Proposed Seattle head tax triggers strong emotions

Some business owners and groups believe companies should do more to ease the homeless problem in Seattle.
Head tax supporters and opponents face off.

While Amazon is clearly against the proposed Seattle head tax, not all businesses share that opinion.

For instance, business owner John Lisbin believes Amazon could do a lot more to help with housing issues but he also understands why the company might feel targeted. When talk of a head tax first surfaced, he told Councilmember Mike O'Brien he supported a lower tax that would impact more businesses, possibly, including his own.

“I was willing to do that because I didn't feel like it was a big burden at all and I do want to do whatever I can do to help out as a corporate citizen,” he explained. Lisbin says he understands why some companies might feel targeted by the larger tax that impacts only the wealthiest companies but says the bigger problem might be communication.

“I don't like what's happening because it feels like they're not talking to each other,” he said. “City council's not talking to Amazon and they talked about being more open with each other.”

Amazon’s announcement to stop plans on a few construction projects triggered frustration from one supporter of the tax. “I'm really upset by Amazon's response, I had to ask myself has Bezos seen any of the homeless people?” Susanna Lin asked. “He has such wealth he should be at the forefront of fixing the problem.”

Lin believes the influx of jobs brought by companies, like Amazon, have made the city too expensive for some families. She says this kind of a tax is a way to try and even the playing field without imposing a financial burden on the people they’re trying to help.

Lin and Lisbin are part of a group known as Seattle Fair Growth. Lin believes a head tax on the top three percent of businesses would not be a problem. “It's not that large of a burden when you consider the businesses that are affected,” she said.

That's not how they see it at Seattle's Hotel Monaco. The company believes the head tax would cost them about $70,000, which could force them to re-think whether to give some employees chance. “We are an industry that provides first chance jobs, second chance jobs, a lot of entry-level jobs,” Jenne Oxford explained.

She said the burden of another tax is significant, especially when you consider other mandatory benefits and taxes the city imposes on the hospitality industry. Oxford feels like the city council isn’t listening. “They don't take the time to think through all the implications of the decisions they're making.”

Oxford said the hotel deals with the ramifications of the city’s homeless problem on a regular basis but they need more justification for this tax. “We want to help solve the problem, and we’re happy to contribute to that, but the results we’re seeing from the city aren’t there.”

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