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Durkan offers Seattle employee tax plan that would halve the current proposed levy

SEATTLE -- Mayor Jenny Durkan has offered a substitute head tax plan that would essentially halve the current proposed $500 per employee tax on big businesses in Seattle, impose a five-year 'sunset clause' and would not revert to a payroll tax, as the current plan would, city officials said Thursday night.

The  alternative plan was disclosed the night before a City Council committee will debate and vote on the employee tax proposal Friday.

City officials say the mayor's "substitute amendment" to the current proposed employee tax has the support of four City Council members -- Bruce Harrell, Sally Bagshaw, Rob Johnson and Debora Juarez.  Only five votes are needed to win approval on the nine-member City Council.

The substitute proposal would reduce the head tax to $250 per employee, which would produce nearly $40.6 million a year in revenue. The money would be used to provide additional shelters and services for the homeless, remove garbage, waste and needles from the streets and build new affordable housing.

The governor and the King County Executive has promised additional resources for Seattle in the upcoming year, city officials say.

The tax would continue for five years, when it would then need an affirmative vote of approval to remain in effect. And it would not transition to a payroll tax in 2021. Proponents of the current proposed head tax want it to transition to a payroll tax after three years.

"Working with people across our City, we have reached a proposal that has the support of four Councilmembers and a range of stakeholders. Like Seattle residents, we will demand transparency and accountability and it is an important step to address our City’s homelessness crisis and support our residents who are struggling,”  Mayor Jenny A. Durkan said in a written statement.

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce said, “It’s encouraging to see Mayor Durkan’s leadership in this challenging situation."

City Councilmember Kshama Sawant -- a vocal supporter of the currently proposed head tax -- came out strongly against the Durkan substitute Thursday night.

Sawant later issued a more detailed statement: "After the Seattle Times reported this morning that King County needs a stunning $410 million annually for homeless services and to build another 14,000 units of affordable housing, Mayor Durkan decided to respond by dramatically weakening the draft Tax Amazon legislation. It’s critical that our movement stand strong and come out in large numbers tomorrow morning to demand no backsliding from the City Council on the $75 million ordinance. We reject the so-called 'sunset clause' that would put the burden on working people to defend the tax against big business in 5 years. We demand the majority of the funds be used to permanently house people with publicly owned affordable housing. "

Amazon, which has strongly opposed the initial employee tax proposal, even stopping construction on a new building in downtown Seattle, had no comment on the Durkan alternative Thursday night.

Monty Anderson, executive secretary of the Seattle Building and Construction Trades, said he supports the Durkan substitute. He said he talked to Amazon and the company assured him that if the Durkan substitute goes through, construction would resume on Amazon's new downtown building. But again, Amazon had no public comment.

Ironworkers Local 86 issued a statement that "we are glad that everyone came to the negotiating table" but it offered no support for any plan.