I’m just declaring bankruptcy on clever titles about the head tax vote. Considering how much energy I put into the head tax (still a lot less than many), I feel I ca post my own hot take on my own blog even if I can’t come up with a good title.
Anyway, it was repealed. It was pretty inevitable after the last minute special meeting was called. I went to the vote anyway. I spoke. There will be more work to do. It’s not like anyone is going to quit trying to fix things. But the “fight” shows how thin the veneer of fair dealing and “civilization” is right now.
Of course, that veneer has always been thin. It hasn’t existed for many groups for a long time (if ever). But the rifts in society really showed on this conflict. Even though the law itself was massively compromised right before passing supposedly with input from the business community, part of the business community pretty openly used a propaganda and misinformation campaign to shift public opinion both on the degree of economic impact of the tax itself, the scope of the problem, and the effectiveness of city efforts towards addressing homelessness. They funded a repeal signature campaign to get it on the ballot using paid gatherers who lied and misinformed, as well as allied with outright homeless hate groups (and even white supremacists). Then they funded a poll to prove that city opinion was against the tax (which of course it was given what information folks see). So the council repealed because they didn’t want to expend the energy to defend it through November, some with worries that another important tax levy (which will be up for renewal) would fail with it.
But this is a playbook that gives those interests a veto on any city action they don’t like. Due to how our property tax system works, pretty much every general election has at least one critical city or county property tax levy up for renewal. The 1% rule means levies for basic services have to be regularly put on the ballot with tweaks to let them be lifted past the below-inflation amount they are limited to. So if you can convince the public that a new law will cause huge economic damage (even if it won’t), that the law isn’t going to address the issue it says it will (even if it will) or that the city can’t be trusted to spend your money or already spends too much on it (even if that’s also false), then gathering enough signatures to “prove” that the law is unpopular is pretty cheap. If you’re willing to lie and exaggerate to voters it’s even easier. As Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog points out, a city council veto costs about $300,000.
So I’m kind of depressed about how openly and brazenly (part of) the business community fought this incredibly minor tax. It’s not like it’s new that large business interests have been convincing people that their interests align when they don’t, as Shaun Scott points out. It’s a decades old project to convince people that government doesn’t work and takes too much of “your” money, all so businesses (and really the largest corporations with the most power) don’t have to contribute as much to a fair and functional society. That history is all over our state tax code which is highly regressive towards individuals, but even our business taxes often fall heavier on smaller businesses than larger businesses which can afford to lobby for lower taxes for their industries. This time in Seattle an incredibly small tax on the largest businesses in Seattle (which all just got massive federal income tax cuts) became seen as being a real risk to jobs, even when it was less than half the mandatory cost of living adjustment to minimum wage.
We talk about money in politics and drawing lines from money to policy outcomes, but normally it’s not so clear. This isn’t donations to a candidate and maybe next year they vote your way, which honestly they probably would anyway because you’re friends, you agree politically on a lot of things and go to all the same parties. This was directly funding an influence campaign so you could (truthfully!) claim the people opposed city action. But I saw the Facebook ads personally. My mother overheard signature gatherer lies directly (as they spoke to someone else being asked to sign). I saw news or opinion pieces go up that I knew were inaccurate in major details and immediately saw lots of well-educated folks repeating those claims. That stuff matters.
I don’t really know how to address this. I’ll probably keep doing what I’m doing (some of it is even fun!) and support progressive tax reform, housing and land use reform and so on. I hope the city council comes back with with more ways to building housing, even if inevitably they will be smaller. But the way this head tax was repealed feels awful. You don’t take power from bullies by giving into them and that’s what this feels like.