Seattle’s once-booming economy is struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic. This problem is not unique. But unlike other cities, Seattle’s tax-addicted progressive leaders are recklessly increasing taxes at a time when businesses and individuals can least afford them.
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This will kill the Emerald City.
Far-left Democrats are in total control of the City Council and mayor’s office. Add the Council’s two Socialists into the mix and Seattlites got used to reliably anti-business legislation. But then a pandemic hit, threatening the prolonged economic boom and the businesses they’ve used to bankroll city initiatives.
When Amazon announced the vast majority of its 60,000 Seattle-based employees would work remotely, the economic pain was immediate. Over 100 businesses in Downtown Seattle have already closed permanently, with restaurants hit especially hard without a steady stream of Amazon employees coming in.
You’d think these impacts would quell the urge to tax and spend. No such luck.
The irredeemably left-wing Council reacted swiftly with legislation dubiously-titled “JumpStart Seattle.” Its intent wasn’t to jumpstart the economy but fund housing and nebulously defined initiatives for communities of color.
The tiered payroll tax targets roughly 800 big businesses, though it was also a blatant attack on Amazon. Indeed, Socialist City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant proudly calls it an “Amazon Tax.” The Council argued that the businesses that will pay the tax can afford it -- even in a pandemic.
The Council previously targeted Amazon with a head tax in 2018. At the time, Amazon successfully pushed back and threatened to end expansion in the city. This time, Amazon reacted swiftly. It announced it would shift 10,000 jobs to nearby Bellevue, Wash. (on top of 15,000 they previously promised). They also declined to renew a 180,000 square foot office lease in the heart of Seattle.
But Seattle city leaders weren’t done with legislation. Over objections from rideshare companies, Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Council established a $16.39 minimum wage standard for Uber and Lyft drivers. This was on top of two previous tax hikes of $0.75 per ride. In a statement, a spokesperson for Lyft predicted the “deeply flawed” legislation will push them out of Seattle.
Seattle isn’t business-friendly, and it’s getting worse.
The local, 130-year-old Bartell Drugs announced a sale to out-of-state Rite-Aid. CEO Kathi Lentzsch complained of business taxes rising plus COVID, making operations financially untenable.
Similarly, Seattle's iconic Elephant Car Wash is shuttering over the "ever-increasing cost of doing business in Seattle and the city's ever-increasing, burdensome regulatory demands."
The Washington state legislature is making matters worse. Democrats passed a new statewide real estate excise tax. It replaced a flat rate with a tiered structure that makes buying and selling large properties even more financially onerous.
Plus, in 2021, businesses may be hit with a 700% increase in unemployment tax rates to fill a depleted unemployment fund. In 2022, there’s a 0.58% wage tax to fund a new financial assistance program. More tax announcements are expected in the next legislative session.
The bigger Seattle businesses are adapting to save money. But the moves won’t save the city.
Seattle-based Starbucks joined Amazon and Facebook in extending their remote workforce into 2021. The arrangement may continue indefinitely as businesses see increased productivity and job satisfaction with a work-from-home model. But as an added incentive, the new payroll tax doesn’t apply to employees who both work from home at least 50% of the time and live outside of Seattle.
If the trend is flexible work-from-home schedules, the effect will have serious implications.
If you don't need to live near the office to avoid a brutal commute, why would you live in pricey Seattle? You get significantly larger homes at a fraction of the price within 20 to 30 minutes of the city. Plus, you won’t have to deal with Seattle’s worsening homelessness and crime.
If the work-from-home model is truly more efficient, there’s also fewer reasons for businesses to buy large properties. This will further cool the commercial real estate industry. And when people move out of the city, there will be a lot of empty, newly-built apartments. But that’s not all.
Many restaurants, coffee shops, and boutique retailers owe their very existence to big employers providing a customer base. If they don’t return, these businesses struggle and eventually close. That also hits their local suppliers.
What’s worse, the city has shown no willingness to curb spending. That means, the middle class will eventually pay higher taxes to keep up with city spending. That, in turn, could push them out of Seattle for a more tax-friendly city.
And, just like that, the once-booming Seattle, desperate to be seen as world-class, becomes Detroit.