[caption id="attachment_8392" align="alignnone" width="550" caption="The mayoral contenders at last month's debate in Belltown"]The mayoral contenders at last month's debate in Belltown[/caption]

The city's so-called "head tax," a $25-per-employee tax that pays for transportation projects (and exempts employees who don't drive alone to work), has become a major  issue in this year's city council and mayoral campaigns, with several council and mayoral candidates saying it should be repealed as soon as possible.

However, a survey of city council members reveals that most council members would be willing to wait until the fall budget process to take up the question of repeal.

City Council members Tim Burgess and Richard Conlin, as well as Mayor Greg Nickels, have proposed repealing the tax (which both Nickels and Conlin, who are running for reelection, previously supported). Nickels wants to push through a repeal as early as this month; however, he has not yet identified which projects he would eliminate or exactly how much repealing the tax would cost the city.

Council member Nick Licata has proposed holding off on repeal until the fall— a move that would take away a major campaign issue for Conlin and Nickels. "What's driving this [push for repeal now] is basically a political agenda," Licata says. "This should be part of a budget discussion rather than the mayor running in and saying, 'We have to get rid of this tax right now.'"

Most of Licata's colleagues—including Jan Drago, a repeal convert (she sponsored the legislation imposing the tax) who's running against Nickels —seem to agree, at least in theory. "It should be discussed during budget because it's a large sum of money and deserves to receive the full scrutiny of the budget process," Drago says. "It would also then be balanced with all the other needs of the city."

"The rational side of my brain says, let's do it during the budget cycle," adds council member Sally Clark.

Tom Rasmussen and Bruce Harrell also say they would be fine with waiting until budget discussions are underway.

Unless something changes dramatically, the potential delay won't mean a reprieve for the tax: At least five council members (a majority) have said they support repeal, with only Jean Godden and Richard McIver coming out strongly in favor of preserving it.

Side note 1:  Burgess has said the tax is unnecessarily complicated for businesses to pay. However, compared to most taxes the city administers, it's actually pretty simple: You count the number of employees you have, survey your employees to find out how many bike, ride transit, carpool or walk to work, subtract that number, then multiply the result by $25. (The city's guide to the tax is here). Small businesses with gross revenues of less than $80,000 a year are exempt from the tax.

Side note 2: Opponents of the "head tax" say it makes Seattle uncompetitive with nearby cities. However, at least two nearby cities impose higher employee hours taxes than Seattle. In Renton, the head tax is $55 per employee. In Redmond, it's $90.

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