Dear employer: Pick Seattle and you too can pay a per employee head tax

By JASON MERCIER  | 
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Oct 13, 2017

As cities across the state and country prepare to submit proposals to try to secure Amazon's new "equal" headquarters, some members of the Seattle City Council have a novel approach to win the bid: A new tax on every Amazon employee. According to the Puget Sound Business Journal:

"Seattle City Council members Mike O'Brien and Kristen Harris-Talley on Thursday proposed a per-employee tax on large Seattle employers to fund services for the city's homeless population.

The tax would start in early 2018 and generate as much as $24 million per year to fund services including 24-hour shelters and long-term housing.

The top 10 percent of the highest-grossing businesses in Seattle, the council members said, would pay 4.8 cents per hour, per employee – or about $100 per employee each year. At that rate, Amazon would pay more than $4 million per year for 40,000 Seattle employees."

When announcing its decision to create a second but equal headquarters outside of Seattle, Amazon said a high priority for the new location will be a “stable and business-friendly environment and tax structure.”

So does Seattle's new proposed per-employee head tax check that box? 

As reported by the Seattle Times

"Both the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Seattle Association agreed homelessness is a major concern, but they strongly disapproved of the business tax.

'We find it really puzzling that they are proposing a new tax on jobs at a time when the city’s economy is thriving, which means the city’s coffers and their budget is bigger than it’s ever been,' said Jon Scholes, CEO of Downtown Seattle Association."

The recently released 2018 Seattle budget proposal highlights this current economic growth: 

  • “Continued growth in the local economy is providing the revenue needed to sustain existing City services in 2018 and to provide for some expansion in targeted areas.”
     
  • “In general terms, local economic conditions remain strong. Seattle has been the focal point of the region’s growth during the current recovery, and the economic growth in the region has outpaced that of the national economy.”
     
  • “The revised forecasts for General Fund tax revenues for City of Seattle reflect a growth rate of 4.0% relative to 2016, after correcting for the effects of new taxes and increased tax rates. For 2018, the revised forecast predicts a growth of 3.8%.”

One thing the new Seattle budget doesn't rely on, however, is the new illegal income tax that was approved this summer

  • “The income tax recently approved by the City could provide such a source, but this tax is currently subject to a legal challenge that will likely take more than a year to resolve.”

Whether it's an illegal income tax or the new proposed per-employee head tax, Seattle sure has a strange way of facilitating a “stable and business-friendly environment and tax structure.”  

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, Seattle's motto appears to be: "If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, tax it some more." 

Additional Information 
Tax Foundation: These Are All the 2017 Tax Proposals in Seattle
Gee, why would Amazon look to locate outside Seattle?