Seattle mayor tosses property tax for homeless plan
A push for a new Seattle property tax levy to fund resources for homelessness has abruptly ended, and in its place is a campaign for a countywide sales tax hike.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine announced Monday a plan to work together on a campaign for a 2018 ballot measure to raise sales tax by 0.1 percent countywide to fund a yet-to-be-formulated regional plan to end homelessness.
“I am convinced that being bolder, going bigger and acting regionally is the only credible response to this growing crisis,” Murray said during a news conference announced the new plans.
Murray said signature gatherers had already collected more than 30,000 signatures for the ballot measure announced in early March that would have imposed a hike in property taxes to fund programs for homelessness, and he thanked those who supported the measure, including Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.
Speaking at the news conference, Hanauer pledged his support for the new proposal, though he wasn’t specific on whether he would fund the campaign to success as he had promised to do with the earlier measure.
The new proposal would tie in with a joint task force of elected officials and others to come up with a countywide strategy on homelessness, something that would presumably tie in with Murray's Pathways Home plan (already starting to take effect), though details on what that plan would look like were scarce.
Funding from the proposed sales tax hike would total $68.6 million in the first year, according to a background paper handed out at the news conference. A majority of that revenue would come from Seattle alone, where 41 percent of King County's taxable sales happen.
Why Murray so quickly backtracked from the property tax plan wasn't completely clear; he said he had only heard of strong support for the earlier proposal and no vigorous backlash over yet another property tax in Seattle.
Instead, he seemed to explain his sudden realization that a coordinated effort could be more effective.
"We saw an opportunity to do something bigger, to partner with the county both on that levy this fall -- the Veterans and Human Services Levy -- as well as more expansive sales tax," Murray said.
Constantine left Murray to defend the shift toward the more regressive sales tax -- because sales taxes are equal across the board, the poor pay a larger share of their income in those taxes. Murray simply blamed the state Legislature for failing to move forward on a state income tax.
"Washington state doesn't have progressive taxes," he said. "We have to deal with what we have."
The new proposal to pursue a ballot measure more than a year out and spend that time making yet another comprehensive plan to try and solve homelessness comes less than a year after a consultant told Seattle's city council and Murray that the city spends too much time planning and not enough time taking action.
Constantine said a thoughtful planning process was necessary to make sure the county got the most value out of the investment.
"If you don't plan, if you don't really take into account the things that are going to get the most value, then you end up measuring success by the amount of money you're putting in," he said. "And that is not the right way to do it. You have to be able to measure what you're getting for (the money)."
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