Regardless of your opinion on the city’s employee head tax to fund affordable housing and homelessness solutions, repealing the tax one month after unanimously passing it is effectively handing Council power to wealthy people and businesses. The repeal in the face of a likely voter referendum opens a new pathway for monied interests to effectively veto Council action, and this one will have a clear price tag.
We won’t know the exact amount of money it took to pay for enough signatures to get this referendum on the ballot until all the campaign disclosures are in. Filings by the No Tax On Jobs campaign so far show costs at a shade under $300,000. So is that the new price to veto Council action?
People and businesses with money already have all kinds of ways to influence politicians. And when that doesn’t work, they have other tools to stop or delay changes anyway. The Queen Anne Community Council sued the city, using the state’s environmental impact laws to delay common sense rules to make it easier for more people to build backyard cottages, for example. And, of course, a handful of businesses in Ballard have successfully delayed the Burke-Gilman Trail Missing Link for more than a decade by using those same environmental review laws.
The vast majority of people do not have the money to file project-delaying lawsuits or spend $300,000 on signature campaigns. People experiencing homelessness certainly don’t. But the people should have the City Council.
If the Council hands their keys to the membership of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce or whoever else has enough money, what lever of power do the people have left?
What message would a repeal send to all the people who volunteered their time and energy to support this tax and get a compromise version of it through a unanimous Council vote? That even if they succeed, the money-holders will just pay to erase their efforts? Why would anyone dedicate another second of their time to working within such a broken system? I hope people stay engaged, of course, but the Council needs to uphold their end of that relationship.
A unanimous City Council vote must mean something. It should be the ultimate statement of intent. Our city’s elected leadership has negotiated and agreed to this policy, and we’re going to follow it until we have good reason to change it. A paid signature campaign is not a good enough reason.
If they were voting to replace the funds for housing and homelessness services with a comparable or better funding method, that might be a reasonable action. But so far, no such replacement plan exists. Since the head tax is the law of the land now, repealing it is a funding cut that hits our most vulnerable neighbors directly. Without shelter, people die. This is not a game.
Obviously, this is a very difficult and complicated situation. Far more so than I understand, I’m sure. But the message to the people if this repeal goes through is pretty simple: People with less money are less important.
What does this mean about our other Council-approved legislation? That’s why I said at the top that it doesn’t matter how you feel about the head tax. An issue you do support might be next. We have massive problems to solve in our city, and we’re going to need a lot more bold and controversial votes if we have any chance of addressing them. We need the Council to have the power to take bold action. Otherwise, they are just Student Senate, only making decisions the people actually in charge of the school will allow them to make. The value of your voice in Council Chambers will be diminished because the power of the Council will be diminished.
Of all nine City Councilmembers, only Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda are sticking with the head tax so far. I hope a few more have a change of heart before Tuesday’s vote. I first became a huge Mike O’Brien fan back in 2010 when he bravely reversed his stance on a punitive anti-panhandling ordinance. At the time, it seemed like a risky political move, alienating him from wealthy power brokers in the city. But it instead set him on a path to be a champion for the people on Council for nearly a decade. I’m hoping he and a few colleagues (like Seattle Bike Blog endorsement recipients Lorena González, Sally Bagshaw and Rob Johnson) do that again tomorrow.