Last year, backlash from Seattle’s business community and other Seattleites led to the repeal of the city’s $275-per employee job tax. At the time, Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO and former Tacoma mayor Marilyn Strickland criticized not only the tax itself but also the process by which it was created without input from Seattle-based employers.
Now, the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), sponsored by the 2,400 member chamber, has announced its support for nine candidates for the city council primary election that it believes will foster greater collaboration when crafting public policies on issues including taxes.
“We’re for a city council that gets back to basics,” CASE Executive Director Markham McIntyre told reporters at a June 19 press conference at the chamber’s office in downtown Seattle. “We feel that the current city council has not wanted to partner with the business community on some of our critical issues.”
The endorsed candidates are: Phil Tavel, Mark Solomon, Egan Orion, Alex Pedersen, Debora Juarez, Jay Fathi, Heidi Wills, Michael George and Jim Pugel. CASE has already raised $800,000 for the political races.
Whether those candidates clear the finish line on Nov. 5 may depend on how well they tap into what recent polling indicates is growing dissatisfaction with the current council. According to a December phone survey of 1,050 people by EMC Research, 46 percent of respondents said the city is going in the wrong direction, compared to 40 percent that said it was in the right direction. Just over half (52 percent) said they disapproved of the council, with 43 percent in support.
The poll also suggests demand for stronger fiscal restraint by the city. When asked if the city had enough money to address homeless problems, 70 percent agreed. A survey conducted by the Chamber and CASE in March 2018 found 63 percent of 800 likely voters also agreed with that sentiment.
Although the candidates sought out CASE’s endorsement, Strickland said that the election “is not about ideological purity…it’s not even necessarily about being pro-business. It’s about being pro-Seattle and pro-neighbor. You can want a thriving economy. You can want your neighborhoods to do well. It is important to sit down with people, to listen, to try and come up with solutions that everyone can live with.”
For the business community, the job tax episode offered numerous examples of frustration they have with the current council. The tax was proposed through the city’s Progressive Revenue Taskforce on Housing and Homelessness that McIntyre said had a “pre-determined conclusion. They just wanted us to rubberstamp it.”
The tax was then approved on May 14, sparking protests from long-term businesses and more than 100 CEOS who cosigned a letter in opposition, as they were already grappling with new regulations approved by the council. Before the vote, ironworkers crashed a pro-job tax rally by Councilmember Kshama Sawant after Amazon suspended construction on a new building in anticipation of the new tax. A month later the council voted 7-2 to repeal the job tax, but questions surrounding the transparency of those discussion led to a lawsuit alleging they violated the open meetings act.
McIntyre said: “We’re just interested in getting a council that is accountable to the voters, that wants to deliver results and isn’t so much focused on ideological rhetoric as it is on trying to actually craft public policy solutions that work for us now and also in the future.”
The nine-member city council is elected by districts representing different neighborhoods. This year, Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are open.
Ultimately, some form of change is coming to the council; Councilmembers Abel Pacheco, Mike O’Brien, Sally Bagshaw and Bruce Harrell have announced they will not be seeking re-election.
“We’re hoping with a change election on the horizon…to try to get a city council that is more transparent, more accountable and more responsive to our district voters,” McIntyre said.
“We like people who understand the importance of business in our community both large and small,” Strickland said. “At the same time, we understand that we are not going to agree on everything. We’re looking for people who understand the basic functions of local government and are willing to sit down and have a constructive dialogue, because that’s how things get done. The challenge of governing is it’s about nuance. When you’re able to sit down and have a conversation with someone, you can get to those nuances that often result in very good public policy.”