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Seattle Repeals 'Head Tax' Designed To Combat Homelessness

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Seattle, leaders have repealed a tax that was supposed to address the city's growing homelessness problem. The so-called head tax was seen as targeting Amazon, the city's largest private employer. Simone Alicea from member station KNKX in Seattle reports.

SIMONE ALICEA, BYLINE: The city council passed the tax unanimously last month, but then Amazon, Starbucks and others helped fund a campaign to put the head tax question to voters. A majority of council members, like Lorena Gonzalez, decided they couldn't win that fight.

LORENA GONZALEZ: It is clear in this case that money has funded this campaign to put us in a situation where we are repealing this law. And that's the truth.

ALICEA: The vote was 7-2 to repeal. Council member Kshama Sawant was one of the nay votes. She, unlike other council members, has referred to the head tax explicitly as an Amazon tax.

KSHAMA SAWANT: It is magical thinking to believe that somehow you will be able to win a tax like this without making enemies out of Jeff Bezos. No. Jeff Bezos is our enemy.

ALICEA: The tax was going to raise more than $47 million for housing an emergency homeless services in Seattle. Head tax opponents, like Julie Hall, have questions as they see more and more tents in their neighborhoods.

JULIE HALL: We're tired. We're tired of not seeing results.

ALICEA: Head tax proponents spoke about the urgency of the homelessness crisis. Here's Reverend Cecilia Kingman.

CECILIA KINGMAN: We have a moral imperative to give all our families a home.

ALICEA: It's unclear where this episode leaves Seattle in its efforts to fight homelessness or in its relationship with a major employer, and all of this could serve as a warning for cities looking to land Amazon's second headquarters. For NPR News, I'm Simone Alicea in Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Simone Alicea