Earlier this week, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced he was pulling the plug on a proposed property tax levy that would raise $275 million to alleviate Seattle’s homelessness problem. He ditched the levy in favor of a King County sales tax increase of 0.1 percent that would raise $68 million per year for homeless services if the ballot measure passes in 2018.
Murray explained his decision to abandon a city-wide property tax in favor of a county-wide sales tax measure during a discussion with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at a “Civic Cocktail” event in Seattle Wednesday:
Let me make a point here because I think there’s been a little bit of confusion. I asked that experts come in after I got elected … those experts pointed out that we needed to do some things different in our delivery system [for homeless services]. We’re doing that. We’re rebidding all $50 million-worth of contracts. The first time they’ve been rebid in 10 years. We used Bloomberg Philanthropies and What Works Cities to model the best practices for contracting. So reforms are underway but an opportunity came out … now we have an opportunity to take a tax measure to the ballot, to actually raise more money than we would’ve raised in Seattle and again to focus it not just on Seattle.
The biggest problem — and we’ve talked about this. I’ve talked about it with other mayors, this idea that it’s Seattle’s problem or Portland’s problem or New York’s problem — ignores the fact that our suburban cities in King County and our suburban cities throughout Washington state also have a homeless problem. So the chance to partner with the county, which controls many of the services related to homelessness was an opportunity that I thought we shouldn’t pass up.
Murray had tapped Nick Hanauer — an earlier investor in Amazon, an activist, and a fixture in the Seattle tech community — to draft the property tax levy. Hanauer will continue to work with the mayor on the sales tax initiative.
“I must admit I am a little sad to not be moving forward with our city initiative, but we will be no less committed to ensuring that the county plan is as big, as effective and as accountable as it needs to be and this region deserves,” Hanauertold said at a press conference.
Murray announced plans to raise additional funds to fight homelessness during his State of the City address in February. He called on Seattle residents and businesses to help address the problem, arguing that the city could not count on federal dollars because President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold funding from cities that don’t help with his immigration crackdown.
Murray is suing the Trump administration over that very threat, claiming it is illegal to coerce local jurisdictions by withholding funds. The city also claims it is illegal for the federal government to tell cities how to use their police forces.
“This city has the scars of when we threw the Chinese out of the city — and our Seattle Police Department did that,” Murray said Wednesday. “We have the scars of internment of the Japanese Americans. It’s just not good. It’s not who we are as a country and every time we go to this place, bad things happen. Not just to the people who are being discriminated against, but to our economy and what we are as a nation.”