Seattle Council president on sudden head tax reversal: Why the city decided to hit ‘the reset button’

Seattle plans to vote on legislation that would repeal the city’s new head tax Tuesday, less than a month after the City Council unanimously approved the controversial plan. But City Council President Bruce Harrell isn’t calling the political quagmire a mistake.

“The mistake would be to do nothing,” Harrell said in an interview with KING 5. “To put your head down and try to enact a strategy that a lot of people have a lot of problems with.”

Harrell went on to say that “tomorrow we will set the reset button.”

Harrell scheduled the special meeting as a campaign called “No Tax on Jobs” prepared to submit the requisite signatures for a ballot referendum that would allow voters to overturn the tax in November. But Harrell said that feedback from the public, rather than the campaign, motivated the about-face Monday.

Seven of the nine City Council members have indicated that they will support the repeal in response to criticism of the approach from the public. The tax was designed to raise funds for affordable housing and homeless services but many of its critics question whether the Council can spend taxpayer dollars wisely to address the homelessness crisis.

If the Council approves the repeal plan, it would be a dramatic end to a months-long saga that pitted the business community against City Hall and neighbors against one another. The law that made it over the finish line in May would levy a tax of about $275 per full-time employee each year on Seattle companies with more than $20 million in annual revenue. A chorus of Seattle businesses spoke out against the tax, Amazon the loudest. The e-commerce giant threatened to slow its growth in Seattle pending the initial head tax vote.

Amazon has not commented on the repeal plan but others in the business community are applauding the reversal of course.

Catch up on all of GeekWire’s coverage of the head tax here. 

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