Amazon, Microsoft Back Tax to Fight Seattle-Area Homelessness

(Bloomberg) -- Inc., Microsoft Corp., Costco Wholesale Corp. and other big Seattle-area companies expressed support for a proposed business tax to combat the region’s homelessness crisis.

A Washington State bill released last week would authorize King County, home to Seattle and the headquarters of those companies, to impose a levy on big businesses with employees who make more than $150,000 a year. The new revenue would be earmarked for affordable housing, homelessness services and public safety.

In a statement on Tuesday, the companies acknowledged the severity of the homelessness crisis and nodded to concerns about behavioral and mental-health services.

“We think the most high impact way to contribute to meet those needs is in the form of a new business tax imposed at a reasonable level with accountability for results in homelessness and affordable housing,” the companies said, in part. “We are encouraged by the effort in Olympia that would provide additional affordable housing and services to address the homelessness and public safety crisis but we believe it is critical that this legislation include a regional approach to address a regional issue.”

Other signers include Alaska Air Group Inc., Expedia Group Inc. and Starbucks Corp., among others.

The city of Seattle in 2018 passed and then -- under pressure from Amazon and other businesses -- repealed a tax based on employee count that would have funded homelessness services.

Since then, the region has made little progress on the crisis, which is being fueled by increasingly unaffordable housing. In January 2019, the latest publicly available annual survey, the number of homeless dropped 8% to about 12,000. But the city still ranked as the third-highest of any area in the U.S., after New York and Los Angeles.

Some progressives on the Seattle City Council -- bolstered by November’s election, which saw a majority of business-backed candidates defeated -- have raised the idea of reviving a levy at the city level, a move the state government could preempt.

House Bill 2907, introduced on Wednesday, would authorize King County to tax, at a rate of between 0.1% and 0.2%, compensation businesses pay to employees making at least $150,000 a year.

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