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Referendum campaign to repeal ‘head tax’ turns in signatures, despite repeal

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The employee hours tax would have raised between $40 and $50 million a year for affordable housing and homeless services

A scattering of tents are visible under a curvy freeway bridge, leading to a dense urban center full of skyscrapers. EB Adventure Photography/Shutterstock

Earlier this week, the Seattle City Council repealed an employee hours tax, commonly known as the “head tax,” it had unanimously passed less than a month prior amid pressure from business groups—including a referendum campaign working to bring the tax to the ballot.

Despite the repeal, the campaign elected to turn in the signatures that could qualify the tax to go to a vote “out of an abundance of caution,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

The tax would have affected businesses making $20 million or more in gross adjusted income, or about 3 percent of Seattle’s businesses, and cost about $275 per full-time employee.

The coalition, according to filings with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, was started by James Maiocco, chief business development officer of mobile payment company Pushpay, and Saul Spady, grandson of Dick’s Drive-In founder Dick Spady and president of marketing company Cre8ive Empowerment. (Maiocco told Puget Sound Business Journal that he’s not representing Pushpay, which is based in Redmond.)

Since then, it’s gained the support of other businesses and groups, netting major donations from the Northwest Grocery Association, Amazon, Vulcan, Dick’s Drive-In, Uwajimaya, Space Needle owner Howard Wright, the Downtown Seattle Association, and others.

The group needed around 18,000 signatures to qualify for a ballot measure, although the campaign said it has gathered about 46,000. The campaign hired an Arizona-based signature-gathering firm, spending nearly a quarter of a million dollars in May alone. Some signatures, the campaign says, were also gathered by volunteers, although that 15,000 wouldn’t have been enough to get it on the ballot alone.

The $40 to $50 million raised each year from the tax, which would have expired in 2023, would have gone to building affordable housing and providing services to Seattle’s growing homeless population. At last count, more than 12,000 people were experiencing homelessness in King County.