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Feb. 22, 2020

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Councilmember unveils details of proposed tax on large businesses

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Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant talks about her proposal for a tax on large businesses that she says would raise $300 million to build thousands of new homes in Seattle and retrofit existing homes as she appears at a rally Wednesday at the Capitol in Olympia. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)
Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant talks about her proposal for a tax on large businesses that she says would raise $300 million to build thousands of new homes in Seattle and retrofit existing homes as she appears at a rally Wednesday at the Capitol in Olympia. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

SEATTLE — Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant on Wednesday unveiled details of her tax proposal on large businesses that she says would raise $300 million to build thousands of new homes and retrofit existing homes.

The proposal would impose a payroll tax of 1.7 percent on the largest 3 percent of Seattle corporations, as measured by payroll in the city, news outlets reported.

She estimates that the 825 biggest companies in Seattle, including Amazon, would pay the tax. The remaining 97 percent of companies — about 22,200 — would pay no tax under the proposal, she said. Nonprofit organizations, public employers and grocery stores also would be exempt.

Sawant said her plan would direct 75 percent of the money raised by the tax to build affordable housing and 25 percent to convert Seattle homes from gas and oil to electric systems.

Sawant unveiled the proposal at a City Hall news conference. The legislation has yet to be written, and no other council members joined her Wednesday, The Seattle Times reported. She expects to formally introduce the measure to the full City Council by the end of the month.

Sawant said she believes a campaign to seek voter approval with a ballot measure is needed, alongside her council legislation, to ensure that a tax is enacted.

Earlier this week, Sawant was charged by the executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission with violating city laws by using her office to promote a potential “Tax Amazon” ballot measure. In a statement Tuesday, Sawant described the matter as a misunderstanding and said her office has changed its operations to ensure compliance moving ahead.

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