Seattle business owners launch petition drive to repeal head tax; Spokane political leaders nix any thought of the tax

Business owners in Seattle have launched a campaign to repeal the city’s new head tax by referendum in November. The Seattle Times reports,

A coalition of businesses formally began a campaign Friday to overturn Seattle’s just-passed head tax through a citizen referendum, opening a new phase in the city’s contentious debate about the homelessness crisis and what to do about it.

“We have until June 15 to gather 17,632 good signatures to send this to the ballot in November to give Seattle a referendum on this issue and, I think even more so, on the Seattle council,” said Saul Spady, president of an advertising company and grandson of Dick Spady, founder of Dick’s Drive-In.

According to the Times,

To qualify for the fall ballot, backers of the referendum will need to gather valid signatures of 17,632 registered Seattle voters — 8 percent of the turnout in the last mayoral election — within 29 days of the effective date of the ordinance, according to the City Clerk’s office. Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the ordinance Wednesday. If the referendum gets enough signatures, the city council must place it on the next scheduled election ballot. A primary election is scheduled for Aug. 7, though the deadline to place measures on the ballot for that was May 11. The next general election is Nov. 6, when voters will already be presented with a property tax levy to fund education.

The ST editorial board advises, “Sign the petition.”

The success of a newspaper, like most local employers, depends on the success of the community it serves. That success is threatened not just by the head tax but by an accumulation of anti-business moves by the council.

“It’s all these things adding up together,” said Uwajimaya CEO Denise Moriguchi, who supports the referendum…

Seattle voters must have a say. Sign the petition, vote in November and show City Hall how much the community wants real solutions — including more jobs — and not just more spending to help those in need.

Watching from the other Washington, Tax Foundation analyst Jared Walczak writes

Even proponents of the new tax, like Matt Gardner and Jared Bernstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, haven’t been entirely enthusiastic about its structure, but have defended it on the grounds that Washington lacks some of the tax options available in other states, most notably income taxes. This, however, misses a key point: while states often have broader tax authority than is available in Washington, localities do not, particularly where business taxes are concerned.

Seattle is one of the few large cities in the country to impose a major business tax, the local Business & Occupation (B&O) gross receipts tax. In most other states, localities have no option to impose either a corporate income or gross receipts tax on businesses. The combination of a major business tax and an employee head tax seems to be completely unique to Seattle—and not in a good way.

The No Tax on Jobs website, still in its very early days, has more information on the campaign. 

According to Crosscut, the campaign is off to a strong start.

Local businesses and economic development groups have secured more than $300,000 in commitments to place a referendum on the ballot next fall that would repeal the Seattle City Council’s newly passed business tax, according to two people involved in the effort.

The commitments came together remarkably quickly. A group of small and large businesses, as well as representative from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA), met Thursday at 9:30 a.m. and pledged to donate money, sources said. The commitments were mined from the networks of the individuals and business interests present in the room…

Consulting firm Ceis Bayne East Strategic, the firm of onetime deputy mayor Tim Ceis, is helping further the referendum on behalf of several business clients. 

Meanwhile, political leaders in Spokane have no interest in following Seattle’s lead.

Elected officials in Spokane said last week there was little appetite for such a move, citing previous investments in shelter services and the work of nonprofits to push affordable housing in the downtown core…

“I’ve never been the type of person that wants to link a tax to a specific type of issue,” said Mayor David Condon, calling the move “counterproductive” to creating livable-wage jobs that he said are needed to address homelessness.

Of course, if the Legislature adopts proposed preemption legislation, the path will soon no longer be available.