At a public hearing on a proposed income tax on high earnings at Seattle City Council chambers Wednesday night, a near-unanimous consensus emerged from the sometimes soaring, sometimes stammering oratory: pass it.
After a presentation from a council central staffer, the council’s Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods and Finance Committee heard from 65 commenters in total. Of these, only a handful spoke against the measure. I counted three. One identified himself as a Republican, another as a libertarian before saying that “taxation is theft,” and the final commenter of the night asked members of council and the audience, “Who’s going to take [taxpayers’] money? Who’s going to take their money? Are you going to take their money?”
A couple times when opponents to the tax were speaking, councilmembers shushed audience members for hissing or yelling over comments they disliked.
Overwhelmingly, though, public comment during the first, much-anticipated City Council hearing on the proposed tax was overwhelmingly in favor of “tax justice,” as many commenters put it. Many described much-needed funding the income tax could provide for housing and social services. Mellie Kaufman, one of several vendors and representatives of Real Change who testified, told the council that “we need the income tax to address our affordable housing crisis,” and to fund shelters for survivors of domestic violence.
Ned Friend, who identified himself as an engineer at a local tech firm, rebuked local Microsoft tycoon Steve Ballmer for telling KIRO Radio last month that creating an income tax could crash Seattle’s economy. “Unlike Steve Ballmer, I’m looking forward to the day when I can pay my fair share,” said Friend. “What really makes an unfavorable business climate is tents lining our highways.”
“We’re embarking on a journey for a tax system that is equitable and fully funds public services,” said John Burbank of the Economic Opportunity Institute. Thanking Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold for “leading” on this issue, he added, “We don’t need another study. We don’t need consultation. We need action now … putting your morals and our morals into action.”
Another commenter suggested that the income tax could help “liberate” rich people from their “fetish” with material wealth.
A bill to create the income tax has been drafted but not yet introduced to the council. The council already unanimously passed a resolution declaring its intention to pass a bill by July 10. As currently drafted, revenue from the income tax—an estimated $125 million in its first year, which would begin in February 2018—would be earmarked for replacing other, regressive taxes; backfilling federal funds if they are cut; creating public housing, education, and transit; green jobs; and administration of the tax itself. However, the details of how that money would be spent would be part of the normal city budget process in the fall. According to Herbold, the tax would apply to about 8,500 Seattleites, out of nearly 700,000.