Tax ‘Em All And Let God Sort ‘Em Out!

The idea of a head tax has never been a good idea.

 

So, the Seattle City Council did it. They passed the highest-ever “head tax” in the country this week, hitting Amazon and other large businesses in the city for $275 per employee per year to supposedly help in solving the homeless problem in Seattle. And it is a problem, along with drug addiction and mental illness. That’s actually three separate issues being bundled under the name, “homelessness.”

This council’s solution to anything has always been “spend more money.” Not “solve the problem”, just spend more money. Remember, the city of Seattle spent $54-million on homelessness services last year alone. Since cutting spending isn’t in their vocabulary, that has to mean the $50-million generated by the Head Tax will go on top of last year’s spending and so over the next year, $104-million will go towards the efforts.

With the majority of the population against the tax, the Council ignored that fact and went ahead with it because they think they know better. I’m then going to assume that this will improve our situation. Notice I didn’t say “solve the problem”, just improve it. Therefore, if you double your spending and the problem gets worse, you have failed and you should return all of that tax money to the businesses.

Better yet, this is a wake-up call to the voters in Seattle to take these City Council elections a little more seriously. Instead of voting in ideologues who match your shade of blue, we need people in office who know how to run a city. Small business owners and community servants, not politicians and tax addicts. There is no place for tents on the streets and freeway off-ramps, needles on playgrounds and people shooting up and defecating in public.  That’s not civilization.

Low-cost housing is a lofty goal. But if we’re spending millions of tax dollars to create people where mentally-ill, drug addicted people can just continue their lifestyle out of our public view, who is that really helping? It inspired one more analogy. The city of Seattle is a beautiful car everyone wants. But when you start it up, it puffs smoke and leaks oil. This City Council’s solution is to get it a new paint job and a couple of shiny coats of wax and that’s supposed to solve the problem. “Isn’t that beautiful? We feel so much better about ourselves.” Yet, it does nothing to remedy what’s really wrong.

I can’t be the only one who would like to take this back to square one. Let’s identify all the money set aside for the battle against homelessness and do a hard sort of what actually works and what doesn’t.

My previous blog tossed out some numbers on Seattle’s current misguided efforts. This Amazon ad gives a strong reason why we need different people in charge.

Seattle has the opportunity to become a better and even greater city. But that requires great leadership. This is where you come in.

Tim Hunter

Overdosing on Analogies

You’ve probably heard about what our Seattle City Council is considering–a Head Tax on companies like Amazon.

It’s not surprising from this council that five of the members brought this idea to the table. This group of elected officials (so, see, the blame actually comes back at us) LOVES to raise taxes. I’d say they’d like to spend like a certain group of people, but the Drunken Sailors Local 1460 have threatened me with a lawsuit. I think that’s what they said. Or, it could have been warm soup.

This city council’s solution to everything is to slap a tax on it.  Their claim is that, if they nick Amazon with a tax on every worker, that’ll give them $75-million to spend on the severe homeless problem in Seattle.  I have so many thoughts exploding in my head that, for therapeutic reasons, I’m going to just rattle them off here:

More Money Spent By Government Does NOT Solve the Homeless Program–Do you think we forgot a mere two years ago, when you said that Seattle needed to double it’s $75-million commitment for battling homelessness to $150-million and we went along with it? I didn’t. Last year alone, Seattle spent $53-million on trying to solve the homeless issue. You’d think that should make a serious hit. In the past two years, our homeless count has gone up 40%, from an estimated 3,000 to 5,000. (and you can find bigger numbers if you want) Over the past decade, the city has spent over $200-million on the homeless issue as it gets progressively (ironic, huh?) worse.

Cutting off Their Nose–Spiting one’s face can come back to bite you. It’s an old cliché. So nailing Amazon for a Head Tax may give our city council another $75-million to flush down the drain, but at what cost? I remember a few years ago when people were complaining about how Boeing was getting too many tax credits. That they should be paying more of their “fair share.”  I forget what year that was. I’ll have to go down to their company headquarters IN CHICAGO and ask.  Oh, and speaking of the Windy City, there’s a town that tried a Head Tax. It turned out to be a job killer and that was a lesson learned seven years ago. So, City Council, if you’re going to nick Amazon for $75-million, that will affect their future decisions about placing employees here. Just this past week, they announced thousands of new jobs up in Vancouver and out in Boston. If they permanently scrap building that high-rise in Seattle and locating jobs here, estimates are that it could cost our economy something like $3.5-billion. Brilliant!

Misguided Politicians–There’s nothing more irritating when a politician uses the “us versus them” approach.  Identify an entity as wealthy and say, “They can afford it” and all of a sudden, you’re doing “the people’s work” by trying to take their wealth away for your purposes. (While not mentioning the six figures you pull in or the thousands of dollars being aimed your way by political interests)  When you vilify someone or something as responsible for your problems, things happen like the French Revolution. The people were rallied by blaming their problems on the rich. That was when the Head Tax first appeared, but in a much different form.

An Addiction Problem–I thought of this while I was formulating my thoughts for this blog but then, while listening to Ron & Don on KIRO yesterday, Ron used the “addiction” analogy.  The city council is addicted to spending your money. They are out of control and say that if you give them even more money, they can solve the homeless issue. The problem is that the people we’re talking about don’t want to be helped and are perfectly happy staying in their situation. So are the homeless drug addicts.

The Shoplifting Analogy–Shoplifting exists. You and I know it. The store owner knows it. For the store owner to protect his business interests, he needs to keep an accurate inventory, figure out how much is being shoplifted and then increase his prices to cover that loss. In other words, when a few steal, the rest of us pay for it. The store owner doesn’t.

If the Seattle City Council wants to bully Amazon into paying a Head Tax because they need to “do their share”, they can shoplift that tax money, but most likely, Amazon will just adjust the cost somewhere else to cover it. The charity that would have benefitted from Amazon will now lose their money to the money addicts down at city hall.

Amazon is doing things to help but doing it and then moving on and getting back to business. Remember their gesture a year ago today regarding Mary’s Place? That was a commitment for perpetuity. Oh, and then there was their donation of space for five Farestart restaurants in the Troy Block development. 

It would only make sense that if the city council is going to bully Amazon for their $75-million worth of lunch money that gestures like those will go away.

Look: There’s the Money!–KIRO’s mid-day mouth, Dori Monson, pointed out that during Ed Murray’s reign as Mayor of Seattle, he added 1300 jobs to the Seattle payroll, most of those (with benefits) clocking in at the $100K range. That’s $130-million of employees that could be eliminated and then use that money to help solve the problem.  OK, half of ’em. That gets you $65-million to fiddle around with.

Selective Law Enforcement–As I’ve blogged about before, what’s very frustrating to me is that we have laws that prevent the camps and squalor that have spread all over the city. Growing up, my family loved camping. However, I never remember dad saying, “Hey gang, let’s pitch a tent over on that sidewalk or underneath that freeway overpass!” Besides having no place to fish, we knew that there were vagrancy laws as well as the old classics like trespassing, and loitering, as well as possession of a controlled substance, public intoxication and disorderly conduct. All laws still on the books, but these days, if you are “homeless”, you’ve become a protected species and if we let you get away with violating those laws, we’re showing compassion.

The Term “Homeless”–Look, if we’re going to spend millions of dollars, a couple of things. A) Anything we do needs to have tangible results. B) Let’s start with the homeless who have found themselves in an unfortunate situation and want to get out. The guy who’s life went south and spiraled out of control, the single mom getting her kids out of a domestic situation and has no place to go. People who are just down and out and need a helping hand.

Now, the drug addicts and mentally ill who resist assistance and have chosen the streets as a “lifestyle”–that doesn’t work. As much as the U.S. Constitution protects their right to live on the streets, I also have the right to not have my car broken into or property from my carport stolen in the middle of the night to help fuel a drug habit. Some people cringe when you talk about forcing them to get help, but apparently that’s OK if your drug of choice is alcohol, but not meth or heroin. (see Selective Law Enforcement) If we’re truly concerned about healing these people and giving them a shot at a long and healthy lifestyle, they may need intervention. It’s the kind of thing families do for one of their own.

There was a time when people who chose to live on the streets were called hobo’s, vagabonds, or drifters. I don’t remember Red Skelton’s character “Freddy the Freeloader” having a heroin addiction and leaving a trail of needles behind him. As I see it, there are three camps: the truly homeless, the drug addicts and the mentally ill. Each should receive treatment and our help, but all in completely different ways.

Put Up or Shut Up!–Here’s a concept, o’ Wise Ones down at City Hall. Go ahead with the Head Tax, get that much needed $75-million and then, in two years time, if the number of homeless and drug addicts living on the streets increases, we’ll consider it a bust and you’ll have to refund every penny of it to Amazon. That’s called accountability. Look it up.

A Quick Reminder!--All that tax money we’re talking about is actually YOUR money. They take it from us and then are supposed to spend it wisely to run our city. That part of the equation has apparently been thrown away.

To Summarize My Approach–Cut loose all those new city employees we’ve hired over the past four years and add that money to the homeless pool. Now, with those millions of dollars standing by, start from scratch. Every program currently in place is given a thorough review. Every six months we ask, “Are there tangible results? Did we save or help at least one person and help them get out of being homeless?” What we desperately need are results. We’ve got the money already for what is needed. We live in a place with plenty of brain power. Those need to come together.

Tim Hunter

 

OH GIVE ME A HOME…

Once upon a time, you could have a different opinion on a topic and not be instantly labeled a jerk or insensitive or worse.

You’re a Republican or Democrat?  Independent?  Cool.  It’s what you believe, we all have the best interest of this country at heart—we just have different ways of getting there. Got it!

I don’t know when the shift began or maybe it’s a generational thing, but we’ve become a society of “If it’s not my way, I’m not going to play!” (see Kentucky) Rather than allowing people to have opinions and then go with what the majority wants, there are now clear-cut lines that you are simply not allowed to cross over.

This week, I’m tackling one of those topics:  homelessness.  Prepare to call me a jerk.

Seattle has a serious homeless problem that is getting worse by the year.  Yet, the politically correct way to talk about homelessness is to do everything in our power to make them more comfortable.  Not get them out of their situation, just enable it.

That doesn’t work for me.

Now, when you drive along I-5 in Seattle, you see little camping tents set up under freeway overpasses or on hillsides.  The residents will get up, spend the day panhandling or begging for funds to continue their barely-getting-by lifestyle only to wake up the next day and do it again. Some see it as a reminder of the homeless issue.  Others see them and feel guilty, as if WE have failed them.

For you 30s and under, it never used to be this way.  Oh, sure, in the 1920s after the Stock Market crash, little shanty towns sprung up where people lived until they could get back on their feet.  It was a tentative existence until the economy turned around. But the residents of those villages never ever planned to stay their the rest of their lives.  Today’s homeless seem to be content with their surroundings, and homelessness has become a lifestyle.

Seattle and the Misdirected Compassionates (I should register that term) have created conditions that cause these pup tent apartments and villages to be an acceptable option.  They are not.

Seattle’s current philosophy on the homeless:

Regardless of history, drugs or alcohol abuse, anyone who has chosen to live this lifestyle is a saint.  Their welfare comes before those of tax-paying citizens, as our politicians set up tent villages in areas far from their homes but close to ours.

Church members gather together to pack sandwiches, drop them off, then drive home while patting themselves on the back.  Of course, they don’t do that for every meal every day, but one day a week or a month and they’re able to feel a little less guilty.

I don’t remember “Thou shalt be coddled and waited on by people who work and have earned everything they’ve got.”  I do remember “Helping the poor.”  Helping.  An active form of the word, “help.”

Enabling, accommodating, coddling, and tolerating is not helping. Forcing a homeless camp into a neighborhood because the city claims it knows best is not helping.

People who are down on their luck need real help and real solutions.  Job training, counseling, a safe place to live temporarily while they make the effort to help themselves.

You say, “Well, Tim, that’s going to cost a lot of money.”  In 2014, Seattle spent $40-million on homeless services.  Add to that all the efforts of churches and private social agencies and you can see we have the weapons to fight this plague. Instead, we opt to show compassion, at any cost.  Well, $40-million last year, to be exact.

To get ahold of this issue, perhaps we need a Homeless Czar. Someone that leads the efforts of the city and county and enforces it.  You’re homeless?  Here’s how we’ll help you fix that.   Choose to ignore that, continue abusing drugs or alcohol and prepare to suffer the legal consequences.

Oh, that’s right.  There are laws.   I was driving through Bothell yesterday and noticed there were white letters painted on the freeway pillars, saying “No trespassing.”   That’s right, it’s actually illegal to just toss a tent up anywhere and call it home. The burbs enforce it.  The city of Seattle feels the compassionate response is to ignore it.

I’ll cover for you on the next response: “But Tim, you can’t just arrest those people.”  No, you give them warnings.  If they ignore them, then they do get arrested.  If you make the threat real, word will spread.  Seattle is NOT where to go when you’re homeless. Go to any suburb, try that and you will be arrested.

You see, what they’re doing is against the law.  We are currently ignoring all kinds of laws—vagrancy, trespassing, etc—because, currently, homelessness buys you lots of leeway.

“But we just need to ignore those laws.”  OK, so which laws do you want to ignore?  Do we all get to ignore them or just the homeless?  And which ones are you keeping?  We live in a society of laws.  Otherwise, you have anarchy.

Our Homeless Czar should compare notes with other major cities about how they’re handling this issue. I remember traveling to Japan a couple of decades ago and saw a homeless guy, begging. One guy.  I asked our guide if homelessness was a problem in Japan and she told me that being homeless was a great shame to the family, so they often would take care of it themselves.

The way I see it, there are three ways to deal with the homeless situation:  Keep feeding it and hope that it fixes itself, do everything in our power to just hide it away from our sight, or make a commitment to really deal with what’s happening out there.

Think about it—Seattle spent $40-million on the homeless issue and yet, it continues to get worse.  There are people who have found themselves living on the streets due to unfortunate circumstances.  We have too much at our disposal not to offer help to those in need.

But again, they need real help, not “feel good” enabling.

Tim Hunter

tents