Community reacts to proposed Seattle employee tax

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SEATTLE -- For some in Seattle, the possibility of more housing options from the proposed employee tax could be a saving grace; for others, they’re concerned the tax could cost them their livelihood.

Seattle is considering a new employee tax, also known as a “head tax”. The head tax would charge the city’s biggest businesses about $540 per employee, raising an expected $75 million. That money would go toward fighting the city’s homeless crisis, specifically housing.

For people like Melissa Burns, that could be a huge help.

Every day, people pass by Burns while she sits outside of her trading post. Burns has a collection of books, artwork, and other items available. The only rule is take what you want and donate what you do not.

Burns says she talks to dozens of people every day, but not everyone is welcoming.

“Get a job, bum, and get a life,” is what Burns says some people will yell at her as they walk by.

For Burns, the space on the street where she makes her trades and collects donations is also her home.

She has been in this one spot for about 30 days. In the past she’s been forced out. In on instance, she says someone burned down her home.

But living on the streets is a relatively new experience for Melissa Burns.

“I was working and made $36k a year,” she said.

Burns says she has a master’s and bachelor’s degrees, and for 12 years she worked as a social worker.

Living in Seattle, she and her husband fell on hard times and could not afford the cost of living anymore.

"I’m not going to hang my head down and cry. I’m just going to live my life and heal myself, and get back to where I was before,” she said.

Burns says she would love to see more housing options for people like her.

And that’s what city leaders promise this employee tax will help create.

But others say taxing businesses that provide thousands of jobs to people living all over Western Washington is a mistake.

“Anytime you try to force people into paying something and they don’t have to pay it, you’re going to struggle," said Chris McClain, a business manager for the Iron Workers Local 86.

On Thursday, he and dozens of others crashed Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant’s pro-employee tax rally.

“Asking us to leverage our livelihoods and our homes to benefit those living on the streets isn’t a fair request,” said McClain.

McClain knows homelessness is serious--because he grew up living on the streets. He says in his late teens he left to find a new life.

He graduated high school and eventually found the iron-working industry. McClain says he’s found a new life and hopes this tax doesn’t jeopardize it.

“This is a place for great opportunity, but we need the jobs to do it,” he said.

The Seattle City Council is expected to vote on the employee tax on May 14.

Amazon has halted construction on its Block 18 project, which promised more than 7,000 jobs, until the city’s vote.

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