At Tuesday’s Budget Committee meeting, I brought forward an alternative to the employee hours tax. I think each of my colleagues feels heartbroken seeing our homelessness crisis continue to grow, and we agree that we must respond with increased funding. And many, if not all of us, support the package of investments that the proposed employee hours tax would fund. However, I do not support the approach that’s been proposed.
Just because an employee hours tax seems like a quick and easy solution for us as a council does not mean it’s the right and only path for us to take. Stable well-paying employment is critical for Seattle residents – it’s the engine of our economy – and it’s important that we prudently analyze the economic impact of this proposal and have a clear sense of how to effectively spend the funds it would raise.
When an hours tax was proposed and implemented as part of the 2006 city transportation levy it was thoroughly vetted during a several months long public process. It also had a clear set of ongoing projects it was intended to fund before getting repealed during the economic downturn in 2008. If we bring this approach forward again, a similar process and similar strategic set of investments should be laid out clearly for the public and service providers to engage with before any council action to impose an hours tax.
I think it is very important to have business at the table to explore options to leverage their support – there is money on the table, and creative partnerships to establish, no doubt. And I will join my colleagues in calling on the business community and private philanthropy to increase their investments in services and housing.
With all that said, because I strongly support many of the programs and projects funded by the proposed employee hours tax, it was important to me to bring forward an alternative funding path and not just end the conversation by voting no. The proposal I shared on Tuesday details many ideas for new revenue streams, additions to our current bonding capabilities, and budget cuts to current programs across different city departments – none of them set in stone. I worked to ensure we knew the options available to us of where revenue could be redirected to fund strategies to reduce homelessness.
I want to be very clear that there are items on that list that myself and my colleagues would feel extremely uncomfortable pursuing – take funding for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements, for example. Making streets safer for everyone has been my life’s work. But we have found ourselves at a point in our homelessness crisis where we must start having these conversations. If we aren’t pushing ourselves to ask tough questions on where we could spend less in order to redirect more funds to getting people off our streets, then we are not responding to our homelessness crisis with the urgency and priority that it requires.
I look forward to working with my colleagues in the weeks to come to find more funding we can spend on supporting those in our community who need it most.