Tax Amazon and Big Business to Build Green Homes in Seattle

For union-built, publicly owned, energy efficient, affordable housing linked to high quality and free public transit

By Whitney Kahn

I’m a para sub, so I get around. I take overcrowded buses to schools across the district. And just about everywhere I go, I hear stories of teachers commuting in from Burien, Kent, and beyond just because they can’t afford Seattle rents for their family. As I expect most of you do as well, I also struggle to give students who actively experience homelessness the care and education they need. In one of the richest cities in one of the richest nations, children without stable homes is an absolutely avoidable tragedy. 

In the 2017-2018 school year, over 4,000 students experienced homelessness, and despite all the high rises that have gone up, that number has not improved, because no private investor is building housing that ordinary working-class people can afford.

Amazon Does Not Pay Taxes

It’s no small wonder that we have to deal with these issues, when we take into account that to be a multi-millionaire or a major corporation in Seattle means to pay almost no taxes. Some actually pay no taxes at all, which is the case with corporate giants like Amazon (CNBC 4/4/19). Instead, working people are strapped with sales taxes, car tabs, tickets, and fees. This puts Washington at #1 for most regressive tax structure in the country (ITEP “Who Pays” report), and that’s why Tim Eyman’s initiatives like “$30 car tabs” get an echo – working people are tired of being overtaxed and underserved.

The answer to all these problems is the same: a big tax on big business to fund high quality, environmentally sustainable, affordable social housing for a range of income brackets, including the lowest brackets. Along with hundreds of others, I’ve joined a campaign to put this tax on this year’s ballot to the tune of a $300-$500 million/year investment. If it passed, it would make a huge dent in our housing crisis, building about 1,000 new housing units every year which would never cost more than 30% of the renters’ incomes. 

Overcoming Trump and his Policies

A tax on Seattle’s richest corporations would only take a small part back from what Trump’s tax “reform” for himself and other billionaires gave them. But it’s a step to undo the wrongs of this administration.

This ballot measure is important for what it does, but also who it turns out to vote in November. We need to defeat Trump in 2020, and this ballot measure would help turn out voters who would vote against Trump, even if there was an unexciting corporate candidate like Joe Biden at the top of the Democrat ticket. Nothing turns out the opposition against the billionaire-in-Chief quite like a tax on big corporations to fund a dire need like housing.

The Response? An Attack on Our Democratic Rights!

This campaign is still barely off the ground, but already the Washington State Legislature is responding. Less than two weeks after the initial summits for this campaign which attracted hundreds of Seattlites, a new bill was introduced in the State House which would provide a much smaller tax on big business to go towards housing. This would be a win for our movement, but it also wouldn’t be enough to meet the scale of the crisis. Therefore it can’t end our efforts. 

On top of that, this bill appears to be a Trojan horse: Everyone expects that over the coming days there will be an amendment included which will add a “pre-emption” clause. In plain English: this law will ban Seattle voters from enacting the progressive taxes we need. 

Despite having Democratic Party majorities in the House, the Senate and a Democrat as a governor in Washington, this is the state with the least fair taxes. And now with these majorities, we are confronted with an attack on our democratic rights in Seattle to vote for progressive taxes. We need to stand up for our democratic right to tax big business. 

There will be a resolution proposed to the March Representative Assembly of our Union to support this campaign. Please make sure that your building reps understand the issues and will vote for this resolution, so we can seize this opportunity to create a more equitable, liveable, green Seattle, affordable for all.