Push to tax large companies now a state legislative matter

OLYMPIA - The push to tax big businesses is now reaching the state Capitol, and backing the new bill is Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

“At the end of the day people want solutions,” Durkan said.

Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine believe the solution to more affordable housing and less homelessness is now through taxing high-paying jobs.

“We should be exploring every opportunity for solutions. This is the one that has been introduced to the Legislature that would deliver revenue that we could start spending next year,” Durkan said.

House Bill 2907 would allow King County to tax businesses on any employee earning $150,000 per year or more.

It's expected to raise about $121 million annually.

Supporters say over the last 10 years King County lost more than 112,000 units in affordable housing for low-income people.

Meanwhile, Durkan said 100,000 people moved into the area in a short amount of time.

“I think the only way a bill is going to get out of Olympia is if business, labor, advocates, all agree on the terms,” Constantine said.

Opponents say the new measure is just another type of head tax.

“This proposal is just Seattle’s failed head tax with a new coat of paint. The only difference is the original disincentivized job creation in Seattle and this version disincentivizes higher wages for the entire County,” King County Council Chair Reagan Dunn said.

He says the measure just punishes local workers and employers for their talent and success, calling it un-American.

Seattle City Council passed a head tax on large companies in 2018, but then repealed it after major backlash from the community and businesses. Constantine and Durkan did not support 2018’s head tax, but Constantine says the latest measure is different.

“It's one being led by the business community. Because of that it reflects a much more collaborative approach,” Constantine said.

Rep. Drew Stokesbary says he does agree more resources are needed but says he cannot get behind the details sponsored by Rep. Nicole Macri.

“It’s kind of a poor solution. We need a robust economy that creates jobs,” Stokesbary said.

He also had questions about accountability over how the money will be spent.

“This new bill proposed by Representative Macri doesn’t really do anything to ensure the money is spent in an accountable manner. There is no opportunities for voters to weigh in,” Stokesbary said.

Macri says both Durkan and Constantine approached her about sponsoring the measure.

Macri says the funding would focus on four region wide priorities. At least half the funding would go to affordable housing and no more than 10% to public safety. Homelessness and behavioral health are the other two priorities.

She says King County Council will need to hash out a pretty specific spending strategy before getting enough votes to pass it.

Q13 News asked Constantine about what Seattle and King County have done to prove to taxpayers that they can be trusted with more tax dollars to fight homelessness.

“People are skeptical and rightly. Because the mounting challenge is not one that we have been able to get ahead of, but it’s a challenge that goes to government, business and the entire community to help fix,” Constantine said.

Q13 News reached out to a number of large companies on Thursday but most are staying quiet about the matter except for Expedia.

“Addressing our region’s homelessness and affordable housing crises at the county level reflects the needs and values of all of our employees in the Seattle region. Thousands of Expedia Group employees live throughout the Greater Seattle area and, like the broader public, are looking to government and business leaders to take new, comprehensive steps to address homelessness and housing issues in the communities and neighborhoods we call home. Our roots are firmly planted in the Greater Seattle area and we are proud to contribute toward the revenue needed to address these issues in the form of a new tax that can make a meaningful impact, creates accountability to drive progress, and quickly gets the needed funding in the hands of our local policy makers in and beyond Seattle as swiftly and responsibly as possible,” Chief Legal Officer Bob Dzielak said.

The measure has 15 co-sponsors from King County, all of whom are Democrats.

The Finance Committee will hear the bill next week.