By SPENCER PAULEY
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – As Amazon expects to have 10,000 employees in Bellevue and Redmond by the end of the summer, rumors of the City of Bellevue imposing a tax on the company were quickly shot down.
It all started when the Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat wrote a column suggesting an Amazon tax was coming to Bellevue. It quoted Bellevue Councilmember Conrad Lee in a council meeting from March about his fears of Amazon taking advantage of the city.
“Amazon is coming…and they are doing well. I don’t want to use the word ‘profiting from us,’ but they are part of our city that provides them with their ability to grow,” Mr. Lee said at the meeting. “When they do, they cannot just take the profit and pocket it. They have to participate in helping the city’s growth in all ways, including our financial situation.”
Days later, during Bellevue’s State of the City session, Deputy Mayor Jared Nieuwenhuis was quick to shut down the rumors of a tax targeting Amazon.
“We are not, despite what you may have read in the Seattle Times, looking at an Amazon tax, looking at a head tax, or looking at a JumpStart tax” Mayor Nieuwenhuis said at the session on June 30. “So my apologies to Danny Westneat.”
Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos started the multi-billion dollar company in a rented garage in Bellevue back in 1994. Nowadays, more teams within Amazon are moving across the I-90 bridge from Seattle to the company’s birthplace.
“We’ve found the Eastside is a great place to call home and we’ve really appreciated all the support we’ve received from the community,” John Schoettler, vice president of global real estate and facilities at Amazon said in a blog post last month.
Amazon’s relationship with the City of Bellevue has led to the establishment of the Amazon Housing Equity Fund in 2021. Through this fund, Amazon has “invested $344 million in loans and grants in the Puget Sound region to create and preserve 2,870 affordable homes—including 1,157 in Bellevue,” according to Mr. Schoettler.
Mr. Lee did not respond to The Center Square’s request for comment on what he meant. However, Mr. Lee did comment for GeekWire regarding the potential Amazon tax.
“We don’t see a need and don’t have a plan to increase tax on Amazon and other tech companies,” Mr. Lee told GeekWire in a story published Friday. “As the most ardent defender of the Bellevue taxpayers, I am making sure that’s not going to change. We are fiscally prudent and only spend what we need, not tax what we can.”
Still, Amazon has shown its frustration with the City of Seattle. The company is specifically annoyed with the city’s JumpStart tax that requires businesses with at least $7 million in annual payroll to pay between 0.7%-2.4% on salaries and wages paid to Seattle employees who make at least $150,000 per year.
Salaries of at least $400,000 at companies with at least $1 billion in annual payroll see the highest rate applied. Hence why the company is moving more and more of its employees across Lake Washington.
Seattle brought in $231 million in 2021 from the JumpStart tax alone. In that March meeting Mr. Lee was quoted from, Bellevue’s Finance Director Toni Call presented a forecast that showed the city’s budget deficits potentially increasing over $20 million by 2028.