The proposed and controversial $500 per worker Seattle head tax passed out of a city council committee by a 5-4 vote Friday, setting the stage for final approval next week and a possible veto by Mayor Jenny Durkan.
The council's Finance and Neighborhoods Committee took votes on several amendments Friday, including ones to both cut the amount of the tax and even one to double it.
Ultimately, the original plan, which calls for approximately 500 of the city's largest businesses to pay $500 per employee per year, narrowly passed. Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Lorena Gonzalez, Mike O'Brien, Kshama Sawant, and Teresa Mosqueda voted in favor. Council President Bruce Harrell and councilmembers Rob Johnson, Sally Bagshaw, and Debra Juarez voted against.
Harrell said afterward he expects a veto from Durkan should the plan pass by the same vote when it goes before the full council, which is expected to come as early as Monday. Six "yes" votes are needed to make it veto-proof.
Durkan on Thursday offered an alternate plan, cutting the tax in half from to $250 per employee per year.
Durkan said in a statement Friday she would sign the alternate plan, but she still was not behind the proposal the committee passed.
Durkan released a statement after the vote, "Seattle wants us to forge common ground on a proposal that builds more affordable housing and brings people off the streets and into safer spaces while continuing to support our small businesses, jobs, and economy. I will continue to work with Council and remain hopeful that Council will pass a bill that I can sign."
Amazon announced last week it was pausing construction downtown pending a vote, but Monty Anderson, Executive Secretary of Seattle Building Trades, said the work would resume if Durkan's compromise deal moved forward.
Sawant, a vocal supporter of the tax, drew a direct line between Durkan's compromise and Amazon Friday morning.
"I think it's important to keep in mind that Amazon alone gave Jenny Durkan's campaign $350,000 last year. You know, this is quite a return on investment for (Amazon CEO) Jeff Bezos," Sawant said.
The Durkan plan did not pass the committee, which voted 5-4 against.
Sawant took her battle a step further, offering an amendment that would have doubled the tax to $1,000 per employee per year. That amendment failed 8-1.
There were other amendments offered to reduce both the amount of the tax and the length of time it would be collected. None passed.
Council President Bruce Harrell, who supported the Durkan proposal, expressed disappointment. "I do not expect the vote change, to change Monday, unless of course a compromise is made." He added, "It's my impression from people that are directly invested, this is not a good tax." The original four council members who sponsored the proposal said they still believe there is room for negotiation. "We are interested in working collectively to find a path forward with our colleagues," said Teresa Mosqueda. "We are not here for political theatrics," added Lorena Gonzalez, "We are here because there is a crisis in our city."
The city council says the head tax will mainly apply to businesses making over $20 million per year -- about three percent in Seattle. Seventy-five percent of the money would go toward building affordable housing, with most of the remaining funds aimed at helping the homeless.