If you’re a resident of Seattle or have traveled to the Pacific Northwest metropolis recently, you probably noticed two unavoidable things: Amazon has made its massive presence felt, and there’s an ongoing homelessness crisis that shows no signs of slowing. A new tax might change that.
On Monday, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a tax on the town’s largest corporations, like Amazon and Starbucks, in an effort to fund the city’s fight against homelessness, NBC reports. The council approved an annual tax of $275 per full-time worker at businesses like Amazon—nearly half of the originally proposed $500—that is estimated will raise around $48 million each year to finance projects related to affordable housing and homelessness services. The tax, beginning in 2019, would last for five years before going up for review and renewal.
This seems like pretty straightforward stuff. Why not tax the wealthiest corporations in the world to fund affordable housing and other basic services for people experiencing homelessness? But Amazon, which reportedly paid $0 in federal taxes in 2017 despite making a profit of $5.6 billion, is pissed, y’all. Amazon vice president Drew Herdener released a statement expressing disappointment in the approved “tax on jobs.” He explained that the company is “apprehensive about the future created by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here,” and argues that Seattle revenue has grown, so the city “does not have a revenue problem—it has a spending efficiency problem.”
This is how wealthy corporations extort cities.
Seattle’s housing crisis is on a parallel rise with the wealth of the city’s largest employer. According to NBC, the Seattle region had the third-highest number of homeless people in the U.S.—and a reported 169 homeless deaths.
In May of 2017, The Seattle Times published some of the stories behind those numbers:
On Jan. 7: A 22-year-old woman died of an apparent opiate overdose near a Northwest Seattle home. [...] Also that day, a 72-year-old man died of prostate cancer at Northwest Hospital and Medical Center.
And then there was Sean Boarman, whose body was found in April in a park in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office determined he died from alcohol poisoning. He was 34.
All four were homeless or living without permanent shelter when they died, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office. Recent figures show the numbers of such deaths are trending, and not in the right direction.
Jeff Bezos, for his part, is the richest man alive.