House committee holds public hearing on proposal to allow King County to tax large business for homelessness programs.

The House Finance Committee this morning heard public comments on HB 2907, a bill that would allow King County to impose a payroll tax on large employers to fund homelessness programs. We discussed the proposal here. TVW coverage of the hearing is here. Crosscut reporter David Kroman provides good background here.

The legislation drew both support and opposition from businesses and business associations testifying, with all acknowledging that the bill is a work in progress. 

The Association of Washington Business yesterday wrote,

In echoes of the 2018 debate about a “head tax” in Seattle, a bill introduced in the Legislature last week would allow King County to address homelessness by imposing a new tax on businesses that pay some of their employees more than $150,000 a year…

With many details still up in the air and supporters of the bill saying it will change in the days ahead, the Senate’s top budget-writer said she’d want “big, happy agreement” in the House before her chamber takes up the bill.

“My preference is not to have my committee embroiled in city of Seattle and King County politics,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

Reflecting some of the early uncertainty over the measure, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter listing 16 questions for lawmakers to consider. Among the issues the Chamber seeks clarification on are preemption, oversight, the definition of small business, whether there would be a cap on the tax, and how much revenue would be raised.

Also today, Geek Wire reports, major tech firms, including Amazon and Microsoft, wrote a letter expressing support for the concept.

Amazon, Alaska Airlines, Expedia, Microsoft, Zillow, and others sent a joint statement to lawmakers in Washington state in support of legislation that would allow King County to tax the payroll of businesses that meet certain thresholds.

Geek Wire quotes from the letter, which includes express understanding that the legislation remains a work in progress.

We recognize that this conversation is just beginning, and we look forward to working together with Legislators, the Governor as well as local elected officials throughout King County, labor and other advocates in a truly collaborative effort to finally make progress on this issue and at the same time continue to encourage the creation of jobs and investment in the region.

Geek Wire reporter Monica  Nickelsburg points out one key issue.

In its original draft, the bill does not preempt cities in King County from passing their own business taxes to fund housing and homeless services. That’s could become a key sticking point as the legislation is debated. If preemption is added to the bill, it would prevent Seattle from passing another ordinance like the head tax.