Seattle Times editorial writers draw conclusions from Seattle head tax retreat

Even as a lawsuit casts a bit of a shadow over the Seattle City Council’s head tax repeal last week, the Seattle Times editorial board draws from lessons from the controversy. An editorial identifies ten takeaways. We won’t go into all of them here; read the editorial. But we’ll call attention to a couple of editorial observations we find particularly important:

…the sleeping dragon that awoke was Seattle’s predominantly Democratic and progressive middle class. Fed up with slow progress on homelessness and fiscal irresponsibility, the populace turned out by the thousands to petition for a referendum. The message for Mayor Jenny Durkan and the council was they’d gone too far and weren’t trusted to wisely use additional funds. The council mooted the referendum with its repeal but still has much work to do restoring faith.

That seems right. Seattle voters didn’t change their political stripes and suddenly become anti-tax conservatives. They simply responded to what they saw as an overreach. 

Also this:

Seattle taxpayers, including businesses, are compassionate and generous about supporting those who are homeless.

What’s needed is a better return on that spending. Seattle and King County are spending $200 million yearly. Yet 52 percent of the regional homeless population of 12,112 was unsheltered, per January’s point-in-time count.

Editorial page editor Kate Riley adds this in a separate column:

Call this the age of the clueless politician.

How else to explain the whiplash reversal of the Seattle City Council on the head tax last week? Or the state Legislature’s screeching retreat on a bill to exempt itself from the state Public Records Act in February?

In both cases, elected officials had enacted measures that many of their constituents not only didn’t like but were angered by. Then they were surprised by daunting citizen backlash. The lesson is leaders need to bring their constituents along with them.

Again, the column is worth your time. Riley makes a telling point here:

…lost in the City Council members’ gnashing of teeth is some of the truth. They billed the head tax as a solution for homelessness that was recommended by a task force. Now, walk with me here because the nuance is important. The group was called the Progressive Revenue Task Force on Housing and Homelessness, and its goal was to find a tax on moneyed interests after a court sunk the council’s previous effort at an income tax.

In fact, initially, there was no specific homeless-solutions plan to fund. There was only the tax — and the details would be filled in later.

The inescapable conclusion: The search for a progressive tax to relieve homelessness was much more about the tax than it was the homelessness crisis.