It was reported on Monday that the city of Seattle plans to introduce a “tax of $275 per employee, per year on for-profit companies that gross at least $20 million per year” in order to generate money to help the homeless.
According to The Seattle Times, what this means is that “about 3 percent of Seattle businesses will be taxed, raising about $47 million per year.” The city council also “approved a nonbinding resolution that calls for spending 66 percent of the new money on affordable housing, 32 percent on emergency shelter, trash pickup, raises for service workers and other needs, and 2 percent on administration,” the outlet adds.
Some who support the legislation claim that companies like Amazon, which will see a significant tax, are responsible for increased homelessness because their employees have driven up rent costs in the city, forcing those who can no longer afford housing onto the streets.
According to the Seattle government’s official website, the city’s adopted 2018 budget is a whopping $5.6 billion. Out of that $5.6 billion, $477.8 million is going to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
The 2018 budget further breaks down as follows:
$409.7 million for "Parks and Recreation"; $256.7 million for "Health and Human Services"; $185.5 million for "Neighborhoods and Development"; $679.7 million for "Public Safety"; $3 billion for "Utilities and Transportation"; $944 million for "Administration"; and $62.5 million for "Funds, Subfunds, and Other."
With razor cuts to each department, the city of Seattle should have little problem scraping up $47 million in order to combat increased homelessness. Cuts to the SDOT budget alone could probably get the job done. Here’s the thing — helping the homeless isn’t the primary purpose of Seattle’s $275 per employee tax. This tax is a signal to the outside world that the city’s legislators are virtuous.
The public extraction of financial blood from large companies is a progressive siren that has a profound impact on the way legislators are perceived by the public. While it’s probable that a city like Seattle could have shuffled some funds, cut some waste, and found a quiet way to fund efforts against homelessness, this new tax creates a stunning narrative in which the legislators represent the good and noble Robin Hood, and corporations like Amazon and Starbucks represent the corrupt Nottingham.
When the next election rolls around, who are the people of Seattle more likely to vote for — the legislators who found a quiet way to help the homeless, or the legislators who loudly and boldly bled the rich to give to the poor?
Politics is a show in which the actor who plays to the crowd comes out on top.