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00000181-fa79-da89-a38d-fb7f2c120000Seattle is in the midst of a struggle with affordable housing and a rising homelessness crisis. The City Council is considering a proposal to have large businesses help pick up the tab on these issues with an employee tax, more commonly known as the head tax.The tax would force big employers to pay the city of Seattle for each employee and every hour worked. It's expected to raise $75 million.

Seattle businesses could ask voters to repeal head tax

Seattle’s new head tax for homelessness services was bitterly opposed by many business owners. Now some say they will ask voters to repeal it in a ballot referendum.

Michael Schutzler is CEO of the Washington Tech Industry Association. He said the compromise between the mayor and City Council that led to passage of Seattle’s head tax this week may have un-paused Amazon’s building project, but it was not a deal he endorsed.

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“It doesn’t address the core issues,” he said. “One, no transparency or accountability for the money already being spent. Two, no clarity at all that this incremental $50 million will do anything of substance to serve the homeless. And three, it’s just bad public policy. So no, I don’t think they heard us at all.”

Schutzler said his group isn’t involved in any referendum efforts.

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“I‘m not surprised that there’s a group of people who are upset about the entire process and want to fix it,” he said. “Because there were construction employees that were against it, union employees that are against this. This isn’t just a tax by the City Council against the tech industry, this is a tax by the City Council against job creation.”

One person seeking to head up the signature-gathering is Saul Spady, the grandson of the co-founder of Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants. He runs an ad agency in Seattle.

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“Now that our mayor has signed this into law we pretty much have 30 days to collect about 17,000 signatures from citizens of Seattle,” he said. (To be exact, that's 17,632 signatures).

Spady said his goal is to bring the referendum to the ballot, get voters to repeal the head tax, and then pass an initiative to create a new plan addressing homelessness.

“The next big step is probably reaching out to some of the bigger businesses,” he said. “Going forward, homelessness needs to be solved by a coalition of businesses, community members, and hopefully – when the Council is in a space to work with us – the Council.”

Spady’s sister is executive vice president for Dick’s and recently co-authored an editorial suggesting that Seattle award tax credits for corporate donations to local charities.  

A spokesperson for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce said their board hasn’t discussed the idea of a referendum, while the Downtown Seattle Association said they’re not ruling it out.

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Year started with KUOW: 2005