The three H’s – heroin, homelessness, and the head tax – hurting Seattle’s reputation

Has Seattle’s leadership lost its collective mind?

Many are wondering lately. A glance at the headlines shows a city government that is of activist groups, by activist groups, and for activist groups.

Because let’s be honest, it not average everyday voters who are pushing a head tax that will reduce jobs in the city. They’re not the ones hoping for heroin injection sites, or asking for even more lax attitudes toward tent camping, garbage, and open-air drug dealing.

More than anything, it’s the three H’s – heroin, homelessness, and the head tax – driving perceptions of Seattle today. And the perception is: The city will look the other way on certain destructive behaviors while taxing jobs out of the city.

That Seattle’s lax policies look like an invitation to move here should be no surprise. Some in social services are concerned about that perception of a “magnet effect,” clearly. And you can’t help but wonder if some of the data about where Seattle’s homeless are originally from is kept intentionally vague.

They don’t want the case laid out too starkly, after all. No doubt some of these worriers cringed when a newly-arrived homeless couple told KIRO 7 they moved here because “we appreciate Seattle’s liberal vibe.”

Is that what “the Seattle Way” means now? A reputation for permissiveness inevitably attracts some to move here. That same couple, by the way, rejected help from a city navigation team because “we don’t want to change our lifestyle to fit their requirements.”

Seattle city government works at lightning speed when taxes are involved
Speaking of the famed Seattle Way – the interminable hearings, meetings, surveys, and process, process, process – it’s being tossed aside for the head tax. After passing out of committee yesterday on a 5-4 vote (the only debate was how big of a head tax to impose), the council signaled its willingness to work through the weekend to pass a final bill Monday.

For Seattle this is lightning speed. The public is just keying into the debate. Maybe councilmembers figure it’s best to pass it quickly, lest the many doubting voices gain steam.

Or perhaps they realize that more protests like the iron workers’ demonstration are a threat because they highlight the many people whose jobs are put at risk by the head tax. The problem extends far beyond tech workers. For Kshama Sawant, having the evening news show actual union laborers protesting her policies was a worst-case scenario.

Better to pass the head tax in a hurry and stop the bleeding.

Where is Mayor Durkan in all this? She sought a lower head tax than Sawant, but still favored one – even as local Democrats such as Dow Constantine are recognizing the foolishness of a direct tax on jobs. Durkan said she “can’t support” the current head tax legislation, so the council is working to strike a deal that can gain six votes and override a veto. Talk of how to effectively spend the money to actually help the homeless is practically an afterthought.

If you tax jobs, you’ll get fewer ______?
It’s fascinating to watch a city council that fully embraces a soda tax, in part because soda consumption will decline, not seem to realize that a head tax – a direct tax on jobs – will result in fewer jobs. Or do they realize it but figure that the Seattle job market is so hot that, hey, who cares?

Well, the iron workers do. They know that job growth in Seattle means construction, and construction means job security and strong wages. Sawant tried to appeal to them as “my brothers in the labor movement” but they weren’t buying it.

They realize that, when push comes to shove, Kshama Sawant is not on their side. Right now we’re finding out who else in Seattle city government is choosing the other side of that line in the sand.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.