On May 18, a standing-room-only crowd gathered at Seattle’s historic Washington Hall to demand that the City Council tax the rich to address skyrocketing inequality and out-of-control housings costs. The town hall, co-hosted by Councilmember Kshama Sawant and the Trump Proof Seattle Coalition, of which Socialist Alternative is a member, was part of a series of similar town halls in neighborhoods around the city. Activists from Socialist Alternative, the Transit Riders Union, the organized Nickelsville homeless community, and Amazon workers trying to organize a union, all made the case for progressive taxation to the crowd. Many speakers objected to the incredibly regressive tax structure in Washington State, the worst in the nation, with Seattle itself ranking 4th worst of all major US cities. This is in stark contrast to the huge number of multi-millionaires in the region and billions in tax cuts received by Washington based mega-corporations like Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, and Starbucks. Kelly Lyons, a Nickelsville resident, put it well when she said, “It’s not right for so much poverty to be sandwiched between so much wealth,” to which the crowd burst into applause.
Now, the Seattle City Council is expected to pass an ordinance to tax the rich in the next several weeks. The proposal being put forward for the city council to adopt would impose a 1.5% tax on single earners making over $250,000 per year, and 3% on single earners making over $500,000 per year in the city of Seattle. This plan is expected to raise $175 million in new revenue each year that could be spent to build new, affordable public housing units, pay for Seattle college students’ tuition, or invest in public transit and social services. Because there is no state income or corporate taxes allowed in Washington, if the proposal is adopted it would likely trigger a corporate-backed lawsuit. But the speakers and attendees in the room were not deterred by this fact, and argued the undemocratic state ban on progressive taxation needs to be challenged. Socialist Alternative member Ramy Khalil pointed out that the courts could be pressured through mass movements to overturn the 1933 ban. This would open up the opportunity to turn the country’s most regressive state tax system into one which taxes the rich, funds education and transit, and houses the homeless.
It’s no coincidence that after years of Seattle activists demanding the city tax the rich that the Trump Proof Seattle Coalition is seeing real success in building support. Alongside Socialist Alternative’s calls for a $15/hr minimum wage and rent control, in 2013 and 2015 one of our main slogans in Kshama Sawant’s election campaigns was to “Tax the Rich”, as well as in Socialist Alternative’s Jess Spear campaign for the Washington State House. At every opportunity possible we have raised the prospect of a millionaires’ tax or taxing the rich to pay for vital services. In response to this growing mood to fight back against regressive taxes and inequality, Seattle’s big businesses have been preparing their own lines of attack.
One of big businesses’ arguments against progressive income taxes is to falsely conflate taxing the rich with further taxing the already overburdened working and even middle classes. Kshama made clear at the town hall that we are against raising taxes on ordinary working and middle class people and that we must tax the rich who take most of the wealth. While Kshama has actively campaigned for this on the city council along with councilmember Lisa Herbold, others have been more reserved. In politics, as in anything else, actions speak louder than words. Despite declaring their support for a progressive income tax, conservative Democratic councilmembers Tim Burgess and Sally Bagshaw have begun pushing for a regressive flat tax on all Seattle residents instead of just taxing the city’s wealthiest. This shows the need for a vigilant movement that not only pressures these establishment politicians but offers its own anti-corporate, independent candidates to challenge them.
Without the movement built over the past years, these same politicians would never dream of putting forward a tax on their wealthy donors. Continuing town halls in city council districts, mobilizing hundreds to city council meetings, building mass movements in the streets, and ultimately packing the courtroom if the legality of the law is challenged, are what it will take to win the strongest progressive tax in Seattle. Socialist Alternative has been there since day one and we will continue to build support for this campaign, arguing for independence from corporate cash, corporate politicians, and for a new party which fights in the interests of working people and oppressed communities.