In 2018, the major employers in Washington fought viciously against the so-called “head tax,” a tax on large employers meant to address Seattle’s rising homelessness crisis. Amazon, the state’s third largest private employer, went so far as to threaten to abandon construction on their new tower and leave the state.

This year, the proposal sounds the same—a tax on regional employers—but the response is different. Eleven major Seattle-based businesses, including Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft, and Alaska Airlines, having actually signed a statement of soft support for a business tax aimed at supporting the low-income needs in Washington.

“We think the most high impact way to contribute to meet those needs is in the form of a new business tax” which should be “imposed at a reasonable level with accountability for results in homelessness and affordable housing,” reads the statement, which was signed February 4, 2020. It doesn’t support the state lawmakers’ proposal by name, but it backs “a regional approach to address a regional issue.”

Specifically, Washington State lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would allow King County to levy a tax against large businesses with high-earning employees and divisions, earmarking the tax money for homelessness reduction measures such as affordable housing and mental health support.

The fact that the head tax bill seems to have been written by and for Seattle alone, however, is concerning to other parties in the state. Officials from other King County cities are upset they weren’t consulted, and people from outside the county are concerned it will set a precedent they won’t have a voice in.

“When you’re talking about local electeds, there was no one outside of Seattle that we are aware of that was consulted on this and now we’re left to scramble to determine what effect this will have on our community,” said Nancy Backus, mayor of nearby Auburn. “Since we were not initially there, our cities are now in the worst position possible.”

There is no vote yet set for the measure, and discussions on all aspects of the proposed head tax bill are ongoing.

Photo: Wide angle view of the Amazon Regrade building with Amazon Spheres in the background, at the company headquarters in downtown Seattle. Credit: VDB Photos /

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