Today the Seattle City Council passed JumpStart Seattle, a progressive payroll tax on high salaries paid by large businesses. JumpStart Seattle lays a path to a new and more robust approach to our housing crisis. It expands local investments in housing without burdening lower income people. We support JumpStart Seattle.
Seattle's housing crisis has taken on a new urgency in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Expanded public investments in housing could:
bring people out of homelessness into stable housing to promote public health;
support struggling lower income families who have had their livelihoods destroyed; and
spark economic recovery through construction activity.
Our current tools for expanding public investment in housing are inadequate. They are insufficient in scale and put an unfair burden on lower income people.
We must use our new perspective in a world turned on its head to reimagine how our community invests in housing. JumpStart Seattle is an opportunity to do this.
Before the pandemic, people in our region already struggled to maintain housing. Over 100,000 households in King County spent over 50% of their income on housing. In the past decade, we've lost over 100,000 homes that were once affordable. At last count, more than 11,000 people are experiencing homelessness here.
Now, the economic impacts of COVID-19 have slammed low-wage workers. While the general unemployment rate is 15%, it is 40% for low-wage workers. About 30% of Bellwether's wage-dependent residents have their lost jobs. They are now relying on rental assistance programs and unemployment to survive. Lower income families living in market rate apartments have inadequate support programs available. Plus, they are likely paying twice as much rent as Bellwether residents. The pandemic has had major racial disparities, especially harming Black and Latin-X Washingtonians.
COVID-19 has further exposed our unfair State and local revenue streams. Washington has the most “upside-down” tax system in the United States. It asks the most of those with the least. Sixty percent of our state and municipal revenue comes from unfair sales taxes. Low income people pay a greater percentage of their income on sales tax than the wealthy. Washington is one of seven states that has no income tax. We have limited tools to offset the regressive nature of the sales tax. Our state's poorest residents are taxed at a rate nearly six times higher than its wealthiest residents.
Given the conversations about structural racism, we cannot ignore that Washington’s tax system perpetuates the racial wealth and opportunity gaps that exist between white families and families of color, who are disproportionately lower income.
Washington’s tax structure is unfair. It is incapable of responding in times of economic crisis. We are reliant on sales tax to fund critical public needs. During a recession, consumer spending drops and remains depressed longer than incomes.
JumpStart Seattle increases Seattle’s investments in housing. As a progressive tax, it shifts the burden away from lower income people. The program taxes employers with payrolls over $7 million only on salaries over $150,000. It would raise $86 million in the first two years, to pay for COVID-19 relief programs. After 2022, it would create over $200 million a year, mostly for housing. This more than triples Seattle’s typical annual investment in housing.
This is not a time to pull back from investment in housing. Our current crises call for deepening investments in housing and services. JumpStart Seattle generates new, progressive revenue that supports economic recovery and housing. We support this step toward a progressive revenue structure. We support JumpStart Seattle.