Divided Seattle city council approves $500 head tax, rejecting mayor’s proposal. AG pointedly declines activist group’s invitation to charge Amazon.

The week ended with more drama over Seattle’s proposed head tax, setting up a possible showdown in the next few days. On a 5-4 vote, the Seattle City Council approved a $75 million, $500 per employee head tax. The Seattle Times reports,

A split Seattle City Council voted Friday to send a $75-million-per-year tax on large employers to the full council, rejecting a smaller tax offered the night before by Mayor Jenny Durkan…

The full council could vote as early as Monday. A new law needs five votes to pass and six to override a mayoral veto. Durkan has signaled she would veto the plan.

Friday’s action means city leaders will likely spend the weekend working on a deal capable of garnering six votes.

Geek Wire reports on the vote, including Mayor Durkan’s statement, which reads in part:

Working together, we must do everything we can to support and create good family wage jobs – it’s why I support and would sign the alternative proposal offered today by Council President Harrell and supported by three other Councilmembers. Unfortunately, the bill that passed out of committee hurts workers by stopping these good jobs, so I cannot support it.

The Seattle Times editorial board urges a veto

The head tax represents City Hall’s increasing unpredictability and disdain for employers. Regardless of Amazon’s response, the city’s attitude dissuades companies of all sizes from creating jobs here. It threatens the cycle of prosperity that saw Boeing plant seeds for Microsoft, which seeded the current generation of tech employers.

Yesterday, King County Executive Dow Constantine said the jobs tax was a bad idea.

King County Executive Dow Constantine says a $75-million-a-year head-tax plan before the Seattle City Council is misguided and ought to be shelved in favor of a regional approach to tackling homelessness.

“I have been working two decades or more trying to bring jobs to the region,” Constantine said in an interview. “I am very concerned the decision being put before us right now is going to harm our attempts to keep jobs and recruit jobs to our region.”

Three leaders of the Seattle Hotel Association wrote in a Seattle Times oped

As hospitality industry employers, we are proud to be able to provide a wide range of jobs from management and sales positions to low-barrier, entry-level jobs that offer hard-to-come-by opportunity to people with limited skills or education and to those who need a second chance in life. We invest in training, we promote from our own ranks and a first job in hospitality can turn into a rewarding, lifelong career.

A tax on jobs will hurt our ability to provide these opportunities.
While the tax showdown looms in Seattle, another matter appears to be put to rest. We wrote recently of Working Washington’s letter to Attorney General Bob Ferguson urging him to charge Amazon with a felony over their expansion pause pending the head tax decision. Today, the AG declined the invitation. The Seattle Times reports,
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has slapped down a union-backed activist group’s call for a felony prosecution of Amazon over the company’s threat to dial back job expansion in Seattle amid the city’s debate over a head tax on large businesses…

In a letter to Dmitri Iglitzin, an attorney for Working Washington, Ferguson wrote that he generally refrains from publicly analyzing laws absent an official request for a binding attorney general opinion. But given the “significant public attention” to Working Washington’s request, Ferguson asked his staff to provide an analysis.

“After an initial assessment, we find there is no legal basis for invoking the ‘Intimidating a Public Servant’ provision of the Washington criminal code in this instance, based on the facts set forth in the letter, nor would the facts meet the burden of proof and test of culpability necessary to support a criminal prosecution,” Ferguson wrote. “I hope this message is helpful to you and your counsel.”

The Seattle Times editorial board was also blunt in characterizing the group’s complaint.

Ferguson was right to call out Working Washington for making outrageous claims that aren’t supported by the law. While doing so, however, he failed to address the deeper problem with the group’s underhanded tactic: the potential to stifle public debate.

Working Washington’s call for criminal prosecution goes beyond calling Amazon’s bluff, or accusing the company of being a bully (which the group has also done). By the organization’s tortured logic, a small-business owner who testifies that a policy proposal will force them to close their doors or relocate could potentially be accused of felony intimidation, since shuttering their business would deprive the city of tax revenue.

Similarly, citizens urging the rejection of a school levy could be accused of intimidating a public servant, since their actions, if successful, would lead to a school district not collecting property taxes in the future. The same could be said of customers who organize a boycott on sugar-filled drinks, depriving the city of expected revenue from a tax on soda.

Also potential felons, under Working Washington’s reasoning? Voters who vow to turn a mayor out of office if he or she doesn’t veto a proposed tax, said Hugh Spitzer, an acting professor of law at the University of Washington.

Right. An interesting few days ahead.