In Seattle, Corporations Must Pay Their Fair Share to Support Climate Justice — Episode 119 of Local Energy Rules

Date: 16 Dec 2020 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

In the midst of a global pandemic, online shopping behemoth Amazon has now tripled its quarterly profits. Meanwhile Seattle, the home of Amazon headquarters, suffers from a housing crisis in which the “city is becoming too expensive for nearly half of our population.”

For this episode of the Local Energy Rules podcast, host John Farrell speaks with Jill Mangaliman, Executive Director of Got Green, and Abigail Juaner of Puget Sound Sage. They discussed the Jumpstart Seattle tax — which will help fund housing and Green New Deal initiatives — for a recent episode of ILSR’s Building Local Power podcast, republished here for Local Energy Rules.

Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.

John Farrell:Over 100 million Americans live in one of 150 cities that have made a commitment to 100% renewable electricity. However, many city leaders have said that they lack the financial resources to reach this ambitious goal. In Seattle, Wash., activists organized to address this scarcity problem by pushing for a tax on highly paid employees at big companies. Jill Mangaliman, Executive Director of Got Green, and Abigail Juaner, Equitable Program Development Manager at Puget Sound Sage, joined me in October 2020 to talk about the organizing effort behind Seattle’s new Jumpstart fund for affordable housing and clean energy work. I’m John Farrell, Director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and this is Local Energy Rules — a biweekly podcast sharing powerful stories about local, renewable energy.
John Farrell:We could just start with, at the basic level, I’m interested in hearing about the Jumpstart Tax. What was the idea behind it? How much money is it going to collect? And who’s paying for it?
 Abigail Juaner:Jumpstart is the progressive revenue legislation that the Seattle City Council passed this summer, in July. It’s estimated to bring around 214 million a year. And who’s paying for it? It’s businesses with payroll expenses for employees with at least $150,000 in annual compensation. It’s structured in three tiers, if you want me to go over it really quickly?
John Farrell:Yeah, I think that’s useful. I think it’s really intriguing for folks in other cities to even just understand a little bit about this kind of structure of local taxation.
 Abigail Juaner:Yeah. It is structured in three tiers. Businesses with payroll expenses up to a hundred million? Their rates are 0.7% of employees with annual compensation between $150,000 and $400,000. Then it will be 1.7% of those with annual compensation above $400,000. The next year is for businesses with payroll expenses between a hundred million and 1 billion. The tax rate for that is 0.7% for employees at annual compensation between $150,000 and $400,000, and then 1.9% for those with annual compensation about $400,000. Then the third tier is for businesses with payroll expenses over 1 billion. The rate for that is 1.4% for annual compensation between $150,000 and $400,000, and then 2.4% for those annual compensation above $400,000. Businesses with parallel expenses under 7 million are exempted from this.
John Farrell:So it’s really progressive, I guess, on almost three different facets. You’re only taxing high paid employees. So, folks who make a lot of money. You’re only taxing businesses above a certain payroll level, but also in an amount that goes up. So you’re really focused on big corporations and people at big corporations who make a lot of money, are sort of the targets for raising this revenue. I did a little ballpark, did a little Googling about the size of the city budget, and it looks like this is going to raise something like about 3% of what the annual city budget was. So it’s also not insignificant. It’s going to actually be able to do some significant work for that amount of money.
 Abigail Juaner:Yes, absolutely.
John Farrell:One of the questions I had was that this tax, the Jumpstart Tax, wasn’t the first attempt to tax large businesses to support local priorities in Seattle. I’m just curious what helped it pass this time around after the failure of a similar proposal back in 2018?
Jill Mangaliman:I guess one major thing that was noticeable was… Well, after last year when the whole tax Amazon had taxed was, it was actually passed unanimously in the city council, and then it was revoked. It just kind of exposed how powerful Amazon is in our city. And actually, I feel like it created a bad taste in people’s mouth. Like, people were just like enraged, too. Like, what the heck? I think, given the political conditions also right now in Seattle, there’s just some really strong organizing, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement and just a lot of more energy.

I think that this time around the political will was there. And the city council members also were working hand in hand with folks. But I do think the conditions were better than compared to the first time it came through, and some of the issues were also discussed and addressed in this is iteration. That’s my take, but I don’t know if you have other thoughts on it, Abigail?

 Abigail Juaner:It’s similar to what you’ve you’ve said. I was not even around in 2018, but we are in a middle of an unprecedented moment. This pandemic and the resulting economic downturn is really threatening our communities that have already been vulnerable even before this pandemic. So with the city’s forecasts of a budget shortfall, I think between 200 to 300 million, there just needed to be a more proactive approach to how we’re going to raise these revenues without cutting the most essential services that are badly needed by our communities. So, yeah. The city needed to find new sources of funding, and continuing to increase sales tax, especially for the ones who are already suffering was just not the right way to go about it. So setting up a new source of revenue that is progressive is the right way to go.
John Farrell:I was curious, with the tax, one of the things that we are very interested in is when cities exercise authority in this way, whether it’s with new taxation or maybe it’s a new regulation, is trying to understand how much other communities could replicate that. Do you know, for example, could other cities in Washington do a similar thing? Other cities in other states? Would they have the authority to do this kind of similar tax?
Jill Mangaliman:I think it’s possible. Or if it’s not, I think the approach of city by city is a very good approach. We saw that with 15 minimal wage. Right? It started in SeaTac and then it happened in Seattle and like carried into other cities and then all over the nation until it got some grounding to actually become statewide. I think that could be an approach. It would also help with the concerns around leakage. People talk about like, “Oh, well you do this tax. Then Amazon will leave or they’ll go to Bellevue or Tacoma” and so forth. So I think if more and more cities do it, then it becomes the norm and they can’t just escape taxation, and actually be held accountable and actually pay their fair share.
John Farrell:I’d like to ask both of you to talk a little bit about how your organizations were involved in the effort to adopt the tax, and also maybe it a little bit more about how it aligns with the work that your organizations do. Jill, do you want to talk about what Got Green had invested in this and how it aligns with the work that you do?
Jill Mangaliman:Yeah. We were doing a lot of talking with community during the time we were push for the Green New Deal, and that kept coming up, the question, “How are we going to pay for this?” This is very ambitious to transition the entire economy to one that’s sustainable. It became very clear from all our conversations and surveys that people wanted something that wasn’t going to fall on the backs of working people. Abigail said, sales tax is really regressive. There were some initiatives on the table around property tax levies. We can’t keep continuing to squeeze every day people who are not responsible for these climate disasters. That we really should be going to the top 1% or the corporations. So it was very clear alignment with what we were hearing from the community.

Even when we were doing work around the 1631, the carbon tax in Washington state, that was something that we couldn’t ignore. People were really concerned about paying taxes, and everyday people having it passed on to them. So this is something that the Jumpstart, like the Amazon tax, or these progressive taxes is something that we, as an organization, we have to support in terms of our beliefs around just transition in ways that… Of course, having all these conversations around revenue, I think the way we were involved, we were definitely not taking lead there in city hall the time, but we were consulted around, where would we want some of the revenue to go? Obviously we pushed for the basic needs and environmental justice and the Green New Deal. But also, yeah, we mobilized folks to make phone calls and send letters to our city council to take that bold step.

John Farrell:Abigail, do you want to talk about what Puget Sound Sage did as part of this and how it aligns with the broader work that your organization is involved in?
 Abigail Juaner:Puget Sound Sage has always advocated for policies that support the resilience of Black, Indigenous, people of color, immigrant and low income workers and families. Even before the pandemic, our community partners have been experiencing threats of displacement. What this pandemic has done is exacerbate these conditions. We already know that they suffer the most from the economic cost of this crisis because of the lack of resources and infrastructure to protect BIPOC and low-income communities from disaster, be it a climate induced one or in a form of a social economic shock, which we’re both experiencing right now. Sage, like Got Green, we’re not the leading organization for this, but have also been consulted around where we want to see the revenues go. We saw an opportunity to advocate for dedicated funding, not just for Green New Deal, but also for the Equitable Development Initiative, which is a city program that we have long advocated for, with our coalition partners and SouthCORE and the Race and Social Equity Task Force. So, advocating for 20 million for a equitable development initiative, which we see as an anti-displacement strategy that our coalition had fought for in previous years. Before jumpstart revenues, its main source of funding was the short-term rental tax, which became unstable due to the COVID crisis. And with the vision for EDI to be funded at 20 million a year, we saw it as an opportunity to use this revenue, to direct resources, that will help our communities become resilient through community led development and land stewardship, which Sage has been advocating for because we see community stewardship of land as a way to address the displacement crisis that our communities have been facing. So in many forums, we see community stewardship as an antidote to the worst of the historic harms done to our BIPOC communities, and they continue to be the ones who suffer the most and are the last ones to recover, especially with the crisis that we have right now.
John Farrell:Could you talk a bit more about that idea of community land stewardship? Are you talking about… I’m familiar with community land trusts, where you’ve got a nonprofit that’s owning the land under the properties, and so you’re sort of preventing displacement due to rising property values. Is that what you’re getting at? I just want to make sure I understand.
 Abigail Juaner:Yeah. Community land trust is just one model of community stewardship. But at Sage we have come up with our definition of community stewardship of land which, for us, it means that communities, whether they’re neighborhood based or cultural based or identity or issue focused, they’re the ones who control the land with the intention to keep it out of the speculative market, where the intention to use it for permanent affordable housing, affordable business spaces, and other social services and other community developments. They use this land as a resource. One thing that is unique about our values around community stewardship of land is the group that owns the land is driven by strong values, and they are accountable to the people they serve, and they value democratic decision making, and they agree that the purpose of this land is to maintain it in perpetuity to make it affordable, permanently or long-term. So community stewardship of land essentially transform the purpose of land to not just be a commodity designed for creating personal wealth, individual wealth, but treating land as a shared resource intended to benefit all communities and keep them resilient.
John Farrell:That’s great. Thank you. More broadly with the Jumpstart Tax, it looks like, as you have alluded to, a lot of the funds are really focused on housing affordability and avoiding displacement. There’s also a carve out for so-called Green New Deal initiatives, it looks like, starting in 2022. Do you see overlaps between the investments in affordable housing and the Green New Deal? And are there key elements of a Seattle Green New Deal that you hope will be supported with these funds?
Jill Mangaliman:Yes. Totally, there’s overlap. Considering that we view displacement as something that also creates pollution and increases climate impacts. Right? The more that we can keep people rooted in place with stable housing, the more resilient there’ll be. Also we can reduce carbon emissions as well at the same time. So it’s a complimentary planning. But also by building housing, that’s also the potential for creation of jobs, as well as potential for creating green infrastructure, making it more accessible to the local communities here, the working-class and BIPOC communities. Something that came up while we were advocating for Green New Deal is around the transition. Right? How do we move away from fossil fuels? Not just new infrastructure, but also existing infrastructure needs to make that transition. And again, how do we support the communities and the workers in that transition? There has to be some real investments. And right now, yeah, there aren’t a whole lot of programs out there that help support the costs to go from natural gas and oil to electric or healthier types, or solar. There’s very little support and programming for that. So we really want to make sure that if we are going to make those goals by 2030, to move away from climate pollution, that we actually do so in an intentional way that doesn’t leave any of our community behind. I think that, yeah, the more that we can continue to have really strong place-based solutions, and support the local communities in building up their resilience plans, whether it’s like increasing their food security or emergency plans, or creating centers and where folks can access health services in times of crisis, or even shelter during wildfire, all of these will help not only create jobs locally, but also will help kind of meet many of our goals at the same time. And yeah, they should be around these areas of affordable housing. So they should go hand in hand together. See a lot of potential for partnership and also a lot of alignment in goals. But yeah, it’s a lot. It’s a lot. The Green New Deal, it’s a big deal, and much needed.
John Farrell:Abigail, were there specific things that your organization was looking for in terms of the initiatives or particular programs or ideas that Jumpstart would fund in Seattle?
 Abigail Juaner:I think that Jill has already talked about it. Our Climate Justice Program is actively involved with the Green New Deal conversation.
John Farrell:Things that I saw in terms of an ask of the city, as part of this Green New Deal initiative program, was that there would be funding for a Community Advisory Board that would help oversee how the money was spent. I guess I’m curious to hear what’s important about having that community advisory role, and then is that actually happening as far as you know?
Jill Mangaliman:Yeah. Earlier this year, we were also like, “What the heck? What’s going on?” Because that was the next step after the Green New Deal passed. We ensured that there was going to be a creation of a Green New Deal Oversight Board to implement that vision. And so earlier this year we heard that there wasn’t going to be staffing or funding. That all changed with the Jumpstart. Some of the Green New Deal coalition, we were able to get in there and state our needs. I think the reason why we pushed for it is that we know that implementation is key. We can have this really great vision, we can pass policies, but unless community is engaged in leading and driving, we can’t guarantee it’s going to reach the people on the ground. So this is also a very necessary piece for accountability that it would actually happen, that would be involving people who are impacted. So the advisory board had folks, very specifically, from environmental justice communities, representing youth, Native tribes, as well as labor workers so that we can have a say in where these resources go. The importance of having it staffed and resourced by the city is also for them to also be accountable and put their money where their mouth was. Right? To actually dedicate resources to ensure that this body can convene and be supported for community members.

It’s very difficult to sit on these governance boards without any support. People take time from their working day where they have childcare or transportation needs, and on top of that needing to organize a meeting and gather notes and gather research. It was a way for the city to actually invest and dedicate to their commitment, to these Green New Deal goals. We also seen when there isn’t staffing or resources that the burden falls, again, on the community members. We really want to see the city step up and actually commit to making those goals and the Green New Deal.

John Farrell:I have some first hand experience with that in Minneapolis, where I sit on an advisory committee to some of the city’s clean energy work. The meetings are a couple of hours long every quarter and in the late afternoon, and there’s no support for the folks who participate. There’s no stipend. There’s no meal. There’s no childcare. In fact, they used to have snacks, just like trail mix or something like that, for people to have. Then they took that away. So it’s really just striking how difficult it makes it. Because I’m a professional. I can bill my work time to participate in that, and it’s lovely. But it really precludes ordinary folks from participating.
 Abigail Juaner:I just want to add that it’s actually exciting to put together the Green New Deal Advisory Board. Especially because, I think, just last month, actually not too long ago, the city had just voted to pass the legislation to stand up a permanent equitable development initiative advisory board. We’ve had the interim advisory board for a few years now, and we’ve always wanted to have a permanent board for it. It’s exciting to really see the city commit to being accountable to the communities who are closest to the problems and also know the solutions that are needed.
John FarrellWe’re going to take a short break. When we come back, we discuss the overlap between the new fund’s focus on affordable housing and green new deal, the role of the community in directing the funds, and whether this fund raises enough money to address the scope of the climate challenge. You’re listening to a Local Energy Rules interview with Jill Mangaliman, Executive Director of Got Green, and Abigail Juaner, Equitable Development Program Manager at Puget Sound Sage, about Seattle’s new Jumpstart tax to support affordable housing and a local Green New Deal.

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John Farrell:One question I had about the funding, and both of you have alluded to this really important advisory role that the community plays in determining how funds are spent. I was also curious, one of the things that I have heard a lot from folks is that you’ll set out these broad goals about how resources should be spent, and the game of the legislation is that we want to help communities that have struggled, whether that’s energy burdened, or communities of color that have been red lined. Is there a part of the work, a way that the city is identifying geography or demographics or something like that so there’s a way to be accountable? Like, “Hey, we spent $10 million. We know that it went to the right place.” How do you track that, I guess, is what I’m curious about?
Jill Mangaliman:Yeah. I think part of it is also how do we… The people on the advisory committee should have roots or connection in the community that they are experts, and so they would know where is it going. But also how do we match that with data? There is the Washington Disparities Map, Health Disparities Map, that actually both our organizations advised on. It was worked on in partnership with the University of Washington and Front and Centered, which is a statewide climate coalition that we’re both part of, and looking to how do we utilize data and mapping, and where are the most vulnerable communities, risk of climate and displacement, and then utilizing our community relationships and understanding of the neighborhoods and identifying, “Okay, these are the priority places and communities.” There exists a environmental justice steering committee at the city that’s carrying out the equity and environment agenda that a few years ago created. So there already exists like tons of information and community expertise on where are the most environmental hotspots in our city and the communities who are leading that work. So I think it’s just a matter of how do we break down those barriers so those folks can actually be resourced to do that work. I feel like there’s so much, already, much research has already been done of where are the communities most at risk of displacement? And so the goal of this advisory committee is to break down those barriers and make it less challenging to access resources so that the community can continue to do the good work that they’re doing. That’s my take.
John Farrell:Like a lot of cities in doing this local climate and energy work, over 150 cities have made, for example, a hundred percent renewable energy commitments by some date. Buildings and transportation obviously are a really big piece of this renewable energy goal. Obviously we’ve already talked a little bit about the linkages between housing affordability and displacement and the Green New Deal. Will this fund, the Jumpstart Tax fund, the 200 and some million a year, be enough to help address these issues and to help make that transition? Which as you mentioned, is only a decade away, really, in terms of that clean energy switch?
Jill Mangaliman:I don’t think it’s enough, but it’s a big start. Yes. You’re going to need much more action, more resources, more creativity.
 Abigail Juaner:Yeah, absolutely. I think even… Is the a question have we done enough? Or, yeah. I think that’s the more important question. Have we done enough? Because I don’t think we have, so the answer is “no” and there’s always more we can do, and we can be more intentional in getting creative in where we get these funding sources.
John Farrell:Do you see, just out of curiosity… In Minneapolis we raised the franchise fee, which is basically like a sales tax, if you will, on electric and gas bills as a small source of funding. It’s orders of magnitude less money than Seattle has through the Jumpstart Tax. But there have been some conversations about, we should go back to this and actually raise it a significant amount that would really fund a significant amount of work. It’s very early to ask this kind of question when you just passed it this year, but do you anticipate that this is a place you could go back and say, “Well, maybe we should raise more money from the same thing”, whether it’s changed the rates or apply it to different companies or something like that?
Jill Mangaliman:I definitely think should assess like every few years, anyways, and see, is it working? Is it doing the thing, or feel like options should be put on the table and see how effective has this worked, also? I feel like that that’s a really important thing to figure out, but I, at this time, I don’t know.
John Farrell:I think that this model of taxing high salaried employees of big businesses is something that other cities should consider? If you got to start over again, you’re helping to organize in Tacoma or you’re helping to organize in Phoenix or something like that, is there anything that you do differently when you’re thinking about the design of that tax or the way that you talk to the community about it?
Jill Mangaliman:I don’t know if you know about Washington. Seattle’s sometimes viewed as an outlier. Like, “Well, they’re doing that stuff in Seattle.” So I do wish, if we were to go back in time, that there could have been more city collaboration so it wasn’t just this random event that happened in Seattle, but rather like… Because we know a lot of people have been pushed out of Seattle. And I think that other cities are also struggling right now with revenue and their own climate planning and housing issues. And so it’s not the problems we have in Seattle. Although they feel really heavy right now. I don’t even live in Seattle anymore, but I think that they actually would resonate with people across the state. So if there was more collaboration with other cities or other states, could be a powerful movement. And just in context, Washington State, we don’t have an income tax. We’re like one of them… We are the most regressive state in the country with our tax structure. So it’s an ongoing issue around revenue with the entirety of our state. And so one city stepping up and saying, “Okay, we’re going to tax these higher income earners.” It’s bold. Especially if this is a state that has had challenges doing that. So what would it look like if we all work together to change that?
 Abigail Juaner:I wish we didn’t have to wait for a pandemic to be proactive about moving away from a regressive tax system that continues to hurt already vulnerable communities, increasing sales tax. A dollar lost to the sales tax is a higher cost to someone who is already poor, compared to someone who earns $150,000 in annual compensation. If we’re being honest here, big corporations like Amazon don’t pay the full cost of their negative externalities. And in the middle of this pandemic, they continue to have huge earnings from this crisis.
John Farrell:I don’t know if you seen my colleagues Stacy’s work, but we’ve got a big spear aimed at Amazon pretty much all the time. She does a lot of research on their market power and the fact that they are too big. Pretty much par for the course on this podcast, to have that frank conversation about how big corporations have a lot of influence. I appreciate what you were saying, Jill, as well about this idea of… Seattle has this reputation as sort of an outlier. And yet I feel like one of the things I’ve found really interesting just about, for example, the presidential campaign and the democratic primary is that some of the things that Bernie Sanders talked about, that you really don’t get from Joe Biden or some of the other candidates, was this idea that corporations have too much power and there is some shared belief of that across the political spectrum. There even a lot of conservatives who say, “Yeah, we don’t want these private institutions to be able to control our lives, to limit our choices and our freedoms.” So it’s one of the things I find so intriguing about this approach is that something like an income tax is, I think, fairly partisan in terms of how things fall down. But something like this that really targets high earners at big corporations, or really, I think maybe even more than anything, focuses on big corporations, focuses on a problem that I think, broadly, a lot of Americans see as a threat to their way of life and to fairness.
Jill Mangaliman:Yes, I agree. I feel like whenever we have community dialogues, people are thinking it. But then when they get in a room together with other people also thinking, and they’re like, “Oh, man. Other people think this, too?” I think that’s also the role that Sage and Got Green plays. It’s like we kind of bring people together and just talk about what’s going on in our community, and people get fired up and want to do stuff. That’s where the people power, the importance of bringing our communities to these spaces, to that point where they’re like, “Okay, things can change. It doesn’t have to always be like this.” I am very inspired right now, even though things are really hard with COVID and the police killings, and just life is hard right now. But I’m really inspired by the youth organizing, by the energy in the streets, and I think that’s really what’s been creating all of these gains, these organizing games recently.
John Farrell:That a really nice way to wrap up. I’m wondering, Abigail, if you have anything that, whether it’s in the work that you’re doing or something that you’ve been reading, that sort of helps keep you going through 2020, which I think is a high bar for a lot of folks? Is there anything that you’d like to share that sort of helps you keep energy for this work in a trying time?
 Abigail Juaner:Yeah. I just wrote it down. The solidarity work that we’re seeing in our communities is really inspiring. We already know that a lot of our community partners are the first responders in their communities when the crisis hit. I think that Got Green and Sage, we’re a values driven organization, and we were to turn our values and ideas and to transformative action. And the city, it did the right thing for passing progressive revenue because it’s in the critical and worse moments when we reveal who we are as leaders, as community members, and what our true values look like in action. So for the council to demonstrate what their values are by standing in solidarity with our BIPOC communities, that keeps me going. It makes the work a little easier, even though there’s a lot of challenges that continue to come up. Seeing the power that we’re building through our organizing work and being able to hold our elected leaders accountable, that keeps us going.
Jill Mangaliman:God, you just inspire me. I really do want to give a shout out to the folks who’ve been leading this work, Decriminalize Seattle, King County Equity Now. That’s some powerful Black led organizing in our city. Also the COVID Mutual Aid. We’ve just been seeing this spread all over the county, all over the city. Folks are stepping up in leadership, and it’s really inspiring. There’s even new organizations popping up. I’m happy to be part of it.
John Farrell:Well, Jill and Abigail, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me about your work and the really big success, I think not just for Seattle, but in terms of modeling what other cities can do to approach some of these thorny issues with the Jumpstart Tax. It is very exciting to be able to tell this story and to, I think, help seed some ideas like this for other cities about how they attack these very challenging issues and to do it in a time when your traditional sources of revenue are not as robust. So thanks again for taking the time. I really appreciate it.
Jill Mangaliman:No problem.
 Abigail Juaner:Thank you for having us.
John Farrell:Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Local Energy Rules with Jill Mangaliman, Executive Director of Got Green, and Abigail Juaner, Equitable Development Program Manager at Puget Sound Sage, about Seattle’s new Jumpstart tax to support affordable housing and a local Green New Deal. On the show page, look for links to several stories about the Jumpstart tax as well as city resources. You can also find other Local Energy Rules podcasts with leaders from Portland, Minneapolis, and Athens Ohio about new sources of revenue to support clean energy work. On ILSR’s website, you can also find our Community Power Map that illustrates how states can enable cities to accelerate renewable energy and an interactive community power toolkit for examples of how cities like Seattle have accelerated climate progress. Local Energy Rules is produced by myself and Maria McCoy, with editing provided by audio engineer Drew Birschbach. Tune back into Local Energy Rules every two weeks to hear more stories about communities taking on concentrated power to transform the energy system. Until next time, keep your energy local, and thanks for listening.

A Big Business Tax to “Jumpstart Seattle”

Jumpstart Seattle is a payroll tax created to raise money for local development, including affordable housing, small businesses support, and the Green New Deal. The Seattle City Council passed the initiative in July 2020. The tax could raise 214 million dollars per year, which is about 3 percent of Seattle’s current annual budget.

Seattle’s Jumpstart tax only applies to businesses with payroll expenses of seven million dollars or more. It is structured in three tiers, each according to the size and employee compensations of the business:

  1. Businesses with payroll expenses of up to 100 million dollars: 0.7% for employees with salaries between $150,000 and $400,000; 1.7% for employees with salaries over $400,000.
  2. Businesses with payroll expenses between 100 million and one billion dollars: 0.7% for employees with salaries between $150,000 and $400,000; 1.9% for employees with salaries over $400,000.
  3. Businesses with payroll expenses over one billion dollars: 1.4% for employees with salaries between $150,000 and $400,000; 2.4% for employees with salaries over $400,000.

Getting it Right the Second Time Around

Farrell mentions a similar tax on Amazon that was passed, then revoked, in 2018. Mangaliman believes that the Jumpstart initiative has staying power. The community, after realizing the extent of Amazon’s power in 2018, has mustered the political will to hold the company accountable. Juaner agrees that dire circumstances have created an “unprecedented moment” for progressive payroll taxation.

Given the political conditions right now in Seattle, there’s just some really strong organizing, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement… I think that this time around the political will was there.

– Jill Mangaliman

The progressive Jumpstart tax will fund initiatives that the community desperately needs — without taking away from essential services. A broad type of taxation, says Juaner, would harm small businesses that are already struggling to make ends meet.

Jumpstart Seattle will face one last test; on December 8, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit against the tax. The court will soon decide Jumpstart Seattle’s fate.

Demonstration at the Amazon Spheres, downtown Seattle

Grassroots Groups are On Board

Got Green organizes “for environmental, racial, and economic justice” in Seattle. Executive Director Mangaliman supports a Green New Deal, but acknowledges that a policy of that magnitude needs funding. Jumpstart Seattle can generate some of that funding without increasing demands on working people.

We can’t keep continuing to squeeze every day people who are not responsible for these climate disasters. We really should be going to the top 1% or the corporations.

– Jill Mangaliman

Got Green rallied the community around Jumpstart Seattle and sent letters to the City Council in support of the measure, says Mangaliman. The organization is also consulting with the city to determine where the funds should go.

Puget Sound Sage also advocates for just communities, particularly focusing on immigrant communities and communities of color. Juaner says that the COVID-19 Pandemic has exacerbated already trying conditions for these communities. With resources stretched, Jumpstart Seattle’s housing support is needed more than ever. Juaner thinks access to housing and land ownership are vital for sustainable communities:

Community stewardship of land essentially transforms the purpose of land to not just be a commodity designed for creating personal wealth, individual wealth, but treating land as a shared resource intended to benefit all communities and keep them resilient.

– Abigail Juaner

Jump Starting the Green New Deal

Some of the funds raised by the Jumpstart tax will support Green New Deal initiatives. The exact allocation of funds is not yet determined, but Juaner and Mangaliman agree that the community should decide where the money is needed most. Mangaliman appreciates that the city is willing to resource and staff a Community Advisory Board to provide this accountability.

We can have this really great vision, we can pass policies, but unless the community is engaged in leading and driving, we can’t guarantee it’s going to reach the people on the ground.

– Jill Mangaliman

As the tax is implemented next year, Mangaliman hopes the city will continue to reevaluate and examine the tax’s effectiveness. If it is a success, perhaps other cities will adopt the initiative as well.


Episode Notes

See these resources for more behind the story:

For concrete examples of how cities can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map.


This is episode 119 of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion.

Local Energy Rules is Produced by ILSR’s John Farrell and Maria McCoy. Audio engineering for this episode by Drew Birschbach.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update.

Featured Photo Credit: Seattle City Council via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Amazon spheres photo credit: Will_i_am Murray via Flickr (CC0 1.0)

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Maria McCoy

Maria McCoy is a research associate with the Energy Democracy Initiative. In this role, she contributes to blog posts, podcasts, video content, and interactive features.