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Seattle City Council expected to reverse head-tax vote after backlash

SEATTLE -  Council Member Bruce Harrell stopped short of calling the head tax a mistake but he says it's now very clear that the vast majority of people they are hearing from oppose the head tax.

So he now plans on supporting a repeal of the head tax in a council meeting on Tuesday.

This announcement comes about a month after all nine council members unanimously approved the controversial head tax.

“I think it’s a wise move to press the reset button and examine how we address the issue of homelessness and affordability,” Harrell said.

Harrell says it’s evident that the public is not convinced that the money is being spent wisely. The head tax would have generated nearly $50 million every year to fight the homeless crisis. The council vowed to use two-thirds of the funds to build affordable housing.

“I think you have to convince the public that you are using the money wisely, and don’t think that persuasion has been there,” Harrell said.

The talk of a repeal coming just one day after a citizen run campaign announced it had well exceeded the 17,000 signatures needed to put the head tax issue on the ballot in November.

“A lot of time, money and resources could be continued to be wasted in a fight in the next several months,” Harrell sad.

Harrell says he didn’t want that to happen. Now, seven of the nine council members have indicated they would support an appeal. Mayor Durkan also supports the idea. That means they will have the necessary votes.

“The vast majority of people that I talk to again at public forums, emails and telephone calls seem to oppose the employee hours tax and that strategy,” Harrell said.

One of those people opposed to the head tax is Seattle resident Matthew Perkins. He says council knew how unpopular the head tax was but approved it anyway. Perkins is surprised over the reversal and says it’s because council members can no longer ignore the backlash and the growing number of people actually fighting back.

“It’s a win, but it’s too little too late,” Perkins said.

Perkins says after the head tax passed he decided to run for office. He says he is so frustrated over city policies he is now running for the District 2 council seat occupied by Harrell.

“This is not the first time that a tax like this has gone through without a budget, without opinion," Perkins said. "Our council members have shown time and time again what the people in their districts want is being ignored and they are pushing their own personal agenda."

We asked Harrell about the public’s concern that city leaders are not listening to their constituents.

“I don’t hear that feedback," he said. "Actually, I hear the feedback that one trait of the council members is that they do collaborate, they spend a lot of time in the public forum and through hearings listening."

Last month, most council members wanted to impose a $500 head tax per employee on companies grossing $20 million. The head tax affects nearly 600 Seattle companies.

Harrell initially pushed back on that, saying it was too high, leading the council to compromise on the $275 head tax that passed unanimously on May 14.

Council members Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda voiced opposition to a repeal on Monday.

“I was only informed about this back room legislation agreement only a couple of hour ago, but far more important than these undemocratic procedural concerns is the complete capitulation to Amazon and other big business that is taking place,” Sawant said.

“This was a conversation that we were very transparent about, engaged in over the last few months, to try to find solutions, and I didn’t make a decision easy to support the employee hours tax initially,” Mosqueda.

Mosqueda says she cannot support a repeal without a replacement legislation that would provide similar sized revenue.

The vote on the repeal will happen sometime after noon Tuesday.