Seattle Times Ed Board Refuses to Meet with "Head Tax" Proponents

By Erica C. Barnett July 22, 2009

The Seattle Times ' editorial board has refused to meet with proponents of the employee hours tax, or so-called "head tax"—a $25-per-employee tax, paid by employers, that goes to pay for transportation projects. (Employees who commute by any method other than driving alone are exempt from the tax).

In an email to supporters of the tax, which a majority of city council members have told PubliCola they want to repeal later this year, Times editorial-page editor Ryan Blethen, 36, wrote, "I admire your persistence but we are going to pass on the edboard. We have done a lot of reporting on the issue and I am confident we will not be changing our opinion."

Blethen, told PubliCola by email that his ed board "will not support the head tax."

Daily newspaper editorial boards routinely meet with supporters of various positions on hot-button issues, whether or not they're on the ballot. The Times' refusal to meet with head tax proponents is unusual for the paper, which routinely differentiates itself from those of us in the blogosphere—which many dailies have long considered less professional— because it listens to "both sides of every story."

The Times has certainly listened hard to one side of the "head tax" story: They've been editorializing against the tax since 2006, when the city council passed the tax. (See, for example, this editorial , where the ed board says the tax sends a "wrong-headed, tough-on-business message"; this one , where they say the tax "punishes the creation of private jobs"; this one , where they call it an "annoying paperwork headache" that "never made sense"; this one , where Times editorial board member Joni Balter calls it a "symbol of a wrong-headed attitude toward medium and small businesses"; and this one, where Balter calls it a "stinker idea .")

The Times ' disdain for the employee hours tax isn't confined to its editorial pages—the Times ' regular reporters (who pride themselves on their "objectivity") routinely refer to the tax as the "head tax," without explaining that it pays for transportation projects or exempts non-SOV commuters; see, for example, here ("The mayor and some members of the City Council want to get rid of the employee head tax to help businesses"); here , ("It's unpopular with business, hasn't brought in the projected amount of revenue, and is complicated to administer and pay"), and here (it "charges business for each employee").
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