Repeal of Seattle jobs tax makes a statewide ban simpler

Jun 12, 2018

The rapid demise of the Seattle jobs tax doesn’t change the need for the bill I’d drafted that would clearly prohibit a tax on jobs (or a “head tax”) unless the necessary taxing authority is explicitly granted by the Legislature.

My bill is still needed because the Seattle City Council’s turnaround was not due to concerns about the tax’s illegality. Far from it, seeing how the mayor and seven councilmembers maintained that the tax “struck the right balance” a day before they reversed course. I guess the state constitution doesn’t count in defining balance.

Instead of a legality question, the tipping point was apparently the prediction of a “prolonged, expensive political fight.” Meaning the referendum that was likely headed to Seattle voters, and the campaigns that would form on the pro and con sides.

My legislation to clearly make the taxing of jobs illegal would also have repealed the Seattle jobs tax. The council’s reversal takes that angle out of the debate and simplifies the question. Three Democrat senators and a Democrat state representative have said they’ll support my no-jobs-tax bill if allowed to vote on it. Add just one more House Democrat and we should have constitutional majorities in both chambers of the Legislature in favor of protecting Washington jobs. I’m hopeful the council’s about-face will inspire a Democrat lawmaker serving a district within Seattle to be that final vote.

The council did the right thing, belatedly, by stopping the jobs tax before it could start. But I was disappointed that the mayor and majority of councilmembers clearly intend to drag the Legislature into the Seattle homelessness debate, judging from the closing sentences of the announcement they made Monday: “The state and region must be full partners and contribute to the solutions, including working for progressive revenue sources. Seattle taxpayers cannot continue to shoulder the majority of costs, and impacts.”

The costs and impacts being shouldered by Seattle taxpayers wouldn’t be so large if fundamental management tools like fiscal accountability and performance measures weren’t foreign concepts at City Hall. The mayor and council members will have a tough time convincing the state, meaning the Legislature, to be a full partner with a city government that has botched its management of the homelessness situation in about every way possible.

And trust me, state legislators from Seattle have repeatedly sponsored legislation to create what they would call “progressive revenue sources.” But after seeing the mayor and the council beat a hasty retreat from their jobs tax, they may be less inclined to pursue a new state income tax or job-killing energy tax that would make them and their party mighty unpopular across our state.

A state law that clearly prohibits a jobs tax couldn’t help but motivate governments in Seattle and elsewhere to make better use of the money they already collect. And I can’t think of anything the mayor and the council can say or do which would be more helpful than what the Legislature could accomplish by taking the jobs tax completely off the table. It’s the surest way to reverse the damage to Seattle’s reputation as a place to do business, and restore trust with employers.