Councilmember Sawant Unveils Amazon Tax Legislation

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3,
Central Seattle) flanked by community supporters, today unveiled her
long-awaited proposal to tax Amazon and other big businesses in Seattle to fund
a massive expansion of affordable housing and services.

Sawant’s proposal, the top three percent of companies in Seattle, as measured
by the size of their payroll, would pay an excise tax of 1.7 percent on their
payrolls to fund new affordable housing and conversion of existing buildings to
meet Green New Deal standards.

The 825 biggest companies in Seattle would
pay the tax; the remaining 97 percent of companies – about 22,200 – would pay
no tax under the proposal.
Non-profit organizations, public employers, and grocery
stores also would be exempt, regardless of size.

proposal would enable the city to:

  • Build 8,000 new affordable, publicly owned or
    controlled homes over the next 10 years; and,
  • Retrofit 47,000 existing homes in the city to meet
    Green New Deal standards.

“On behalf of our movement, I’m excited to put forward this bold,
transformative proposal. We know that big business, the wealthy, and the
political establishment will staunchly oppose this, and that we will need a
powerful movement. If we win, this will not only transform the lives of
Seattle’s working people, it will set a historical marker for cities around the
nation,” Sawant declared.

Sawant’s $300 million tax proposal is similar in size to the 2018 voter-approved measure in San Francisco that taxed big businesses to fund housing and services.  The Seattle companies that would pay the tax have, in aggregate, about $90 billion in annual revenue, meaning that the effective tax rate of Sawant’s proposal on their income would be on average a modest 0.3 percent.

“I think any rational person will agree that
it’s more than reasonable for the biggest, richest companies in our city to pay
zero-point-three percent of their revenue to do their part to address our
city’s crushing housing crisis,” Sawant said.

“Today, tens of thousands of people are at
risk of being pushed out of Seattle by soaring housing costs. They are nurses,
bus drivers, restaurant workers, baristas, mechanics, construction workers,
teachers, and more. These are the people who make our city run. Communities of
color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community are especially feeling the stress of
housing displacement. Seattle’s Central District, the hub of the African
American community a generation ago, is today less than 20% Black
. Even tech workers
are feeling the vice grip of a private housing market that has failed working
people, with average rents in Seattle up 69% since 2010, far
beyond the rate of inflation and more than double the national average. Today 46% of Seattle renters are officially rent burdened, and one-quarter of
all homeowners – especially elders living on fixed incomes and struggling with
rising property taxes – are also at risk of being pushed out. 

“Companies here have reaped billions because
Washington state has the most regressive tax system in the nation. It’s time
for Amazon and other major corporations to pay their fair share,” Sawant said.

“The crisis for working people is only
getting worse,” Sawant said. Last month’s McKinsey & Company report
demonstrated starkly the scope of the crisis. It estimates that the region
needs ‘between $450 million and $1.1 billion each year for
the next ten years.’

“It’s clear, through bitter recent
experience, that the private market has failed us, and will not fill this need.
So as a socialist city councilmember, elected by and accountable to working
people, it’s my duty to put forward bold policy solutions that match the scale
of the problem, and to mobilize our communities to win them.”

Under Sawant’s proposal, 75 percent, or $225
million annually, would be spent on housing and social services. The housing
would be built under union-designed community workforce agreements, with
guarantees for apprenticeship opportunities, priority for local workers to be
hired, and union wage rates. The homes would be publicly owned or controlled,
and would be built to energy efficiency standards called for under the Green
New Deal.

The investments will allow Seattle to build
an additional 800 new affordable homes a year, on top of the 300 new homes that
are funded through the Seattle Housing Levy.

The remaining 25% of the funding, or $75
million annually, would be spent on converting existing homes that use home
heating oil or fracked natural gas to electricity.

Currently the oil and gas used to heat
Seattle homes is responsible for 480,909 metric tons of GHG pollution every
year, representing about 15 percent of the city;’s overall climate pollution,
according to the Seattle Community Greenhouse Gas Inventory Emissions

The $75 million
annual investments over 10 years will enable Seattle to convert 47,000 homes to
clean electric energy.

“My legislation is a huge public-sector,
unionized, living-wage jobs bill,” Sawant noted. “We will need thousands of
workers to build and maintain the new homes, and we will  need thousands
more to retrofit existing homes to clean energy. And with local priority hire
requirements, we’ll make sure that young workers, especially women and people
from racially and economically marginalized communities, will have
opportunities to build their city – and live in it.”

With Sawant’s legislation unveiled, City
Council staff will now draft the measure into bill language. Sawant expects to
formally submit the legislation to the full City Council before the end of the

As the legislation moves forward, Sawant and
a growing movement of community advocates will press the State Legislature to
reject a corporate drive to end-run Sawant’s Amazon Tax legislation. Corporate
lobbyists are pressing state legislators to pass a “preemption” law that would
permanently ban cities like Seattle from enacting progressive taxes on big

Sawant and other local elected officials
published an op-ed earlier this week denouncing the corporate attack on local
communities and democratic rights.

Sawant also sent a letter to State
Representative Macri yesterday, urging her to stand publicly against preemption

“Now, in unveiling this legislation today,
we are making it clear that when business or politicians talk about ‘preemption’
– creating a tax shelter for Amazon and big business – they are talking about
stopping the proposal I am putting forward today. They want to stop our whole
movement to Tax Amazon. They would stop the construction of 8,000 homes and
prevent the electrical conversation of 47,000 homes,” Sawant said. “Our entire
community will fight this anti-democratic attempt to deny the people of Seattle
the ability to raise the funds needed to solve the housing crisis.”


Editor’s NOTE — charts provided as part of this morning’s
press conference:

1.     “Who pays the tax
on Amazon and big business

2.     “How much will
Amazon and big business pay

3.     “Building thousands
of affordable homes

Advancing the
Green New Deal