Advocacy group backing head tax urges AG to charge Amazon with felony; Mayor Durkan wants changes to proposal.

The Seattle tax story continues. In what seems like a stretch even for this guy, a union-backed group has called on Attorney General Bob Ferguson to charge Amazon with a felony.


The Seattle Times reports,

The group, Working Washington, is asking Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson to charge Amazon with a Class B felony: “intimidating a public servant,” citing the company’s move to pause some construction and leasing in the city pending the outcome of the vote on the so-called “head tax.”

The group’s letter to the AG (when we last checked, it had 1,131 signatures) says,

As you know, on May 2nd, a top Amazon executive stated the company was “putting a pause” on expansion in Seattle in an attempt to influence the city council to reject a proposed $0.26/hour tax on the largest companies in the city to address our housing and homelessness crisis. This was a clear threat by Amazon to do substantial harm to the business and financial condition of the city of Seattle if public officials did not act as they demanded.

It’s the sort of thing you might expect from a subprime mob boss lording it over a company town — and that’s not just a metaphor.

It’s a felony under state law to threaten substantial harm to the business or financial condition of any person, corporation or unincorporated association in an attempt to influence the vote or any other official action of a public servant. We believe there is abundant evidence Amazon has broken that law, and we urge you to investigate and prosecute Amazon for this serious crime.

The Times quotes former AG Rob McKenna,

Former state Attorney General Rob McKenna called the group’s prosecution demand absurd, saying the law in question is aimed at protecting individual public employees from personal threat, particularly of  physical force.

“That’s a joke. How is the individual public official harmed substantially by Amazon’s statement they are pausing construction?” said McKenna, a Republican who served as attorney general from 2005 to 2013. “If a company were to threaten to pull out of a city altogether that would not remotely satisfy the requirements of this statute.”

McKenna’s assessment is shared by another prominent attorney.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge said Amazon may be playing hardball, but the company has a right to do so.

“What Amazon is doing is not a threat within the meaning of the criminal law. They can make a business decision and decide not to proceed with a project,” said Talmadge, a former Democratic state lawmaker.

Things do seem to be spinning out of control in some corners of the Emerald City. 

Meanwhile, Mayor Jenny Durkan wants to see changes in the proposal.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is still working on a deal with City Council members pushing a new tax on large employers and with business leaders arguing the tax for subsidized housing and homeless services would be misguided, Durkan says.

In its current form, the legislation under consideration by the council “doesn’t meet the requirements I have as mayor,” she told reporters at the Westin Hotel after delivering a speech at an education-related luncheon there Wednesday…

The mayor remains open to some sort of tax but contends it should include a potential end date and wants to get big-business leaders on board, she now says.

The King County executive calls the proposed tax “counterproductive.” And Starbucks wants to see reform and results from the city before agreeing to any new taxes.

Starbucks, like other major companies based in Seattle, opposes the proposed employee-hours tax. John Kelly, the company’s top executive for public affairs and social impact, says the city should reform its homelessness programs and show results before it seeks more money — a message the company has sent before.

Kelly said the tax itself and what it would cost the company are beside the point…

“We share the same concerns of every other major employer and small employer in Seattle and are opposed to the tax, but are more concerned that we’re missing the opportunity to reform and to focus on a compassionate need of hundreds of children sleeping in cars in Seattle,” Kelly said in an interview before heading to a panel discussion on the subject with Mayor Jenny Durkan.

The business side of the Seattle Times is also opposed to the tax.

[Company president Alan] Fisco said the company is concerned that the so-called head tax “will be an additional financial burden that will take resources away from our news gathering and business model transformation.”

As proposed, the tax would become a 0.7 percent payroll tax in 2021, which would likely lead to an increased tax bill, Fisco said. That’s the same year The Times’ lease expires in the increasingly expensive South Lake Union neighborhood.

While the company has yet to begin a formal process of looking for another location, Fisco raised the possibility that The Times could look for new offices outside the city of Seattle.

We hope Working Washington doesn’t see that last comment as a threat.