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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.

Head tax referendum campaign has dueling factions in close quarters

KUOW/Amy Radil
"No Tax on Jobs" volunteer Mike Hamstra seeks signatures near Amazon banana station. Amazon opposed the employee head tax.

Backers of the campaign to repeal Seattle’s “head tax” won’t say how many signatures they’ve gathered, but they’re optimistic.

They have 10 more days to submit nearly 18,000 signatures. And both sides are working hard to reach voters.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Katie Wilson with the Transit Riders Union says head tax supporters try to give out leaflets wherever signature gatherers are stationed. ", "fid": "145113", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201806/IMG_2925.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW/Amy Radil"}]]In some locations, signature gatherers for the referendum campaign are in close proximity to supporters of the head tax.

Mike Hamstra, volunteer with No Tax on Jobs: “They’ve been for the most part respectful. I’ve had to explain, like, rules of engagement at different properties.”

Hamstra says some stores have policies asking the different groups to stand by different doors, so shoppers don’t feel overwhelmed.

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On this day he’s approaching voters outside the Amazon buildings in South Lake Union.

The tax would collect $275 per employee from Seattle’s largest companies to fund housing and homelessness services. Hamstra says he got involved because he felt like the city council was out of touch, and the tax was the wrong direction for the city.  

Hamstra: “It just doesn’t seem like a proper tax. It punishes businesses that encourage job growth.”

Katie Wilson with the Transit Riders Union is wearing a yellow t-shirt that says, “Decline to Sign.” She says labor groups paid for leaflets that they’re giving out against the referendum.    

Wilson: “What we’re trying to do is get out there and really educate voters about what this legislation actually does and why it’s so important to preserve funding for housing and homelessness.”

Both sides say there’s been some friction between the opposing factions, but most efforts have been peaceful.  She says her group agrees with people who say property taxes have been going up too much. She favors the head tax as an alternative.   

Katie: “It’s really funny to me that these same people are up in arms and basically doing Amazon’s job for them, out there helping to gather signatures to repeal this thing.”

Wilson noted that credit ratings agencies last week gave favorable reviews to the head tax, which Amazon opposed. Analysts with Moody’s Investor Services did raise concerns about Amazon’s “outsized influence” on city policies.   

Year started with KUOW: 2005