Kshama Sawant

Kshama Sawant hasn’t given up on more progressive different taxes for transit ($):

Whether or not voters approve Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1, Sawant says, she will ask her council colleagues to support a budget amendment that would raise additional money for Metro Transit…

Her plan calls for an annual head tax of $18 per employee and a commercial-parking-tax hike of 5 percent, which she says could together raise an estimated $20 million a year

“Many council members said, ‘This is not the right time to talk about it. We need Prop. 1 to pass. Let’s talk about it during the budget,’ ” she said. “Well, here were are.”

Good for Ms. Sawant to call attention to the continuing need for investment in the bus system. Even if Prop. 1 passes, we will not have reached the point of diminishing returns for bus service.

Her office has not yet clarified if she is open to funding bus speed and reliability capital improvements using this money. Prop. 1 regrettably excludes this purpose, which through a one-time expenditure could improve the experience of riders, make transit viable for more people, and often save Metro and the City operating costs in the long run. It is often both a cheaper solution than adding a bus trip and better for riders. Although there are cases where more bus trips are the right answer, additional flexibility for SDOT will allow them to do the most good for the most riders.

A good list of projects to start with is in the Transit Master Plan, pages 3-14 to 3-24. The Council does not need a ballot measure to approve these taxes.

36 Replies to “Sawant Revives Head Tax”

  1. Any idea why drafters of Prop 1 excluded speed and reliability improvements?

    Mark Dublin

    1. If I had to guess, it’s just to keep the issue focused and easy to communicate to voters. It’s way easier to say “buy more bus hours” than “buy more bus hours or make some capital improvements” because then you have to explain what the capital improvements are and whey they’re good. Everyone intuitively gets why we might want more bus hours.

      1. Saying “capital improvements” probably irritates a lot of people as much as ST bulletin’s increasingly frequent statements that Sounder Trains are delayed- or like this morning canceled- due to “mechanical issues.”

        If the locomotive broke down or more likely they couldn’t get a door shut- the average little boy knows what it means, and he’ll probably explain to his parents.

        “Lanes reserved for buses” and “signals held or adjusted for buses” are just as comprehensible.

        Maybe because of the rise in middle management as percentage, and key element, of our workforce, our usage of the English language is being adjusted to the worst habits of that level that part of any organization. Public or private.

        Including withholding important elements of the truth to avoid either giving offense or revealing facts that will give rise to justifiable resistance.

        The English language is a good one for getting work done. Let’s take advantage.

        Mark Dublin

      2. Yeah, and don’t forget the original goal was simply to put back what Metro cut (service hours).

    2. John Fox of the displacement coalition threw a fit about the money maybe going to streetcars and got the amendment added. Its a gigantic screw up.

      1. John Fox and Tim Eyman add up to two people, meaning that anything political that they’re wrong about should be easy to counter by a very large majority.

        Governmental body the size of the Seattle City Council shouldn’t need lawfully anonymous help from the Koch brothers to convince them to override one of them.

        Some of us have justified rep for being so intensely focused that we’re as scary as everything really sharp- not so much quick-witted but inclined to deliver max energy to small area.

        Any sculptor will tell you that not only is a dull chisel useless for its intended purpose- but also more likely to slip and cut its user than a sharp one.


    1. +1 – It’s a flat tax imposed equally on all jobs, regardless of the wage paid to the worker. Unless I’ve missed something the tax will be the same amount for a Starbucks Barista (sans engagement ring, of course) and a Financial Analyst clogging up the bus lane on 2nd in front of Russell Investments with their waiting Uber.

      1. +1 to your +1. It’s regressive, people hate it, and it raises hardly any money. If we had a progressively-indexed head tax that could partially or fully replace sales tax, then I’d be all for it. But as a regressive add-on to an already patchwork system, I’m not convinced.

      2. Let’s see, progressively-indexed head tax. Something that scales with income, presumably. Hey wait, that’s an income tax!

        I’m a strong proponent of an income tax. But considering it’s illegal by state constitution, I won’t hold my breath about that happening.

      3. Apologies for the out of context snide humor. Starbucks has been blasted for requiring their baristas to not wear their engagement rings. In reality, it’s a health code thing.

      4. Let’s see, progressively-indexed head tax. Something that scales with income, presumably. Hey wait, that’s an income tax!

        Not quite. It scales with outgo, at least if it is set up like TriMet’s payroll tax is. In that way, it is a bit more like a sales tax as it taxes expenditure by the business, not the income. The business can still have as much income as it can and not be taxed, but when it pays its workers it has to pay the payroll tax.

        It may seem like a hair thin technicality, but it isn’t an income tax on the workers as they won’t see it on their check pay stub. Instead, it is the business end of things that get taxed.

        Calling it an income tax would be a bit like calling the sales tax an income tax, because when someone buys something at a restaurant or a store the money that changes hands represents income for the business but and expense for the customer. A payroll tax may be income for the worker, but it is an expense for the business, and apparently taxing expenditures is perfectly legal.

        I’m no expert in the Washington State Constitution though to know how easy it would be to actually accomplish this.

    2. I think Sawant would say that the tax is unlikely to pass through to wages of low-paid workers, but I agree that the word is presumptuous and I’ve removed it.

      1. I suppose one could argue that if an employee is already being paid minimum wage, passing on the tax would cause the employee’s pay to fall below minimum wage, which would be illegal. Hence, the employer would be required to absorb the entirely to the tax.

        Of course, the above argument is meaningless for anyone getting paid a mere $2/month above minimum wage, so, I would hardly call the head tax progressive.

  2. What’s wrong with a percentage based head tax?

    Let’s take this a step further and add an incentive for employers to encourage and pay for employees to walk, bike, carpool & take transit.

    1. I’m guessing what’s wrong with it is that the County isn’t legally able to levy such a tax? In that it sounds a lot more like a payroll tax than a head tax, and the lege would probably not be amused.

  3. Glad to see that there could be separate legislation to top up if you will on the bus funding for Seattle! Hopefully through a legislative process, Sawant can pursue a cocktail of funding options. I’m okay with a flat head tax as one of those. Although, it doesn’t have to be that either.

  4. $18/year paid by the company- The horrors! Working people across the board will see their wage cut by $0.009 /hr.
    Or maybe this will just be swallowed by businesses because $18/ employee might as well be loose change. Of the mechanisms the city has for funding (property taxes and sales taxes) all are flat- so in this city, “progressive” is a measure of who pays, and this is a smart way to raise a little bit of change to get 60 more bus drivers and thus 2400 more hours of busing.

    Come on folks, we need to embrace this creative funding, unless the state senate because a lot more friendly toward funding adequate transit.

    1. The issue with being “creative” is that we end up with a bizarre spider web of taxes, each with a different set of rules, filings, enforcement, and oversight. Businesses hate this. Each new tax loses a share of the money it collects to administration.

      On the subject of taxes – shouldn’t Seattle get a sales tax boost from all of the new residential and office construction? Along with cars and restaurants, construction is one of the biggest sales tax generators, and unlike online shopping, it is basically impossible to evade.

  5. Anything presented by Sawant is going to be DOA, in my opinion. Her political agenda and public personal have ruined any goodwill she may have been able to garner amongst the voters outside of her district.

    1. She has the second highest approval rating of any council member. Also, she wasn’t so toxic that the minimum wage didn’t get passed. It is silly to underestimate her.

      This is a political winner for her. Is whoever her business-friendly opponent is going to support a head tax? If not, Sawant can say they’re anti-transit.

      This is also a political winner for transit. It draws attention to the fact that we will need better transit, even after Prop 1. And if her eventual business-friendly opponent opposes the head tax, they will probably need to support something else so that they can’t be called anti-transit. All of a sudden, how (not whether) to expand transit is the debate.

      IMO, this is why she’s an invaluable presence on the Council. Even if she’s a little out there sometimes and we disagree with her on some issues, she can shape the debate in ways that are favorable to a pro-transit agenda.

      1. Completely agree. Good for her to put this on the table, especially ahead of an election year. Once the Prop 1 money comes in and we see that it’s done good things, but that more investment in transit is needed, she’ll get momentum behind this plan.

      2. That’s hostage taking at its worst, though, to argue that a tax is good if the tax revenue goes somewhere good. It only encourages policymakers to govern via scare tactics by creating situations where essential programs are always running out of money (if you don’t raise taxes, we’ll have to let prisoners out of jail…).

        Just to flip the idea on its head, who would support a bicycle tax to support transit? Probably nobody, but if you’re against it, you’re anti-transit?

      3. >if you don’t raise taxes, we’ll have to let prisoners out of jail

        Considering that nearly 25% of the world’s incarcerated population is in the Land of the ‘Free’, many of which are non-violent offenders, I’d vote for letting many of the prisoners out of jail.

    2. Agreed, its very unfortunate to have increased transit funding associated with this far left radical extremist (and I vote Democratic BTW).

  6. Assuming we are not trying to discourage businesses from hiring people in Seattle city limits the head tax seems really dumb, the minimum wage will already push some businesses out and we don’t want to make hiring people harder.
    Taxing parking seems totally reasonable, as it is in short supply and will encourage people to use buses.

    1. What’s the point of having jobs that pay so little that people working full time have to work a second job or be on food stamps?

      1. Who is going to provide jobs if small businesses can’t afford to hire anyone? It’s a tricky catch 22. Unfortunately, it is a situation that arises with most of the wage earners are in highly lucrative big business and through the economic equillibreum out of whack.

  7. Please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Versement_transport

    Portland Tri-Met has a similar tax.

    The tax is not payed by employees but by the company; Any small business with less than 9 employees doesn’t pay the tax. The tax also depends on the financial status of a town. Paris has a higher tax than the working class suburbs.
    In addition employees subsidize their workers transit passes. This might seem extravagant, but then they don’t have to have parkings (outdoors or indoors) in their businesses..in a town like Paris parking is hard to find and usually not close to where one is actually going….

    This Transport tax has helped even small towns to get a decent transit system. Small towns have the same problem as Paris, London etc. They are so old, and with historically protected areas, that cars aren’t practical in their downtown area.
    Since the 1970s major shopping streets in the majority of towns in Europe, then in other continents–except in most of North-America— are car-free and/or car-restricted all year long.

    But you guys likely know that.

  8. P.S. Not that it matters, but like many Europeans men with relatives living in rural communities, I hunted game. From hard to see tiny birds to wild boars. Our arms were registered of course.
    My father was obsessed by safety (he was a police detective for years but eventually couldn’t stomach anymore the display of brains and guts all over a room, after someone killed their family) so he always hid our family rifles and ammunition–in separate places …my brothers and I had no clue where they were.they mysteriously appeared on the days we needed them. .

    In due time, after finishing my post-secondary education, like all fit young men I had to do my military duties. For 2 years and unpaid. I was allowed to chose what and where: the Air-Force, in (then) West Germany. I also went to the USA, in New Mexico, for special training…

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