1. City council member Tim Burgess was giddy. “This is a huge win, this is a huge win,” he told me yesterday afternoon. The King County Superior Court had just upheld the city’s gun and ammo tax—legislation Burgess ushered through council earlier this year—against a lawsuit from the NRA.
The NRA had argued that the tax—a two-to-five cents tax on different gauges of ammo and $25 tax on firearms that goes to pay for gun violence prevention—violated the state’s preemption on gun regulations. And it had precedent on its side. A Greg Nickels–era ban on guns in city parks got tossed by the courts in 2010.
However, the city argued that the tax wasn’t a regulation and fell well within the city’s taxing authority. Yesterday's court ruling agreed with that argument.
Burgess said the court ruling is “what they [the NRA] fear most, commonplace gun safety measures.” He went on, comparing the win to the $15 minimum wage and paid sick leave: “Seattle is a trendsetter, and we’ve now linked the cost of gun violence to making sure the industry should offset that cost.”
The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which cheered yesterday’s decision, estimates that taxpayers spent about $12 million in medical costs related to gun violence last year.
The tax will raise between $300,000 and $500,000 a year to pay for gun violence prevention programs. Cook County (Chicago) passed a similar tax in 2013.
2. Catherine Lester, the head of the city’s human services department, announced some dispiriting news in the city’s fight against homelessness yesterday morning. Jim Theofelis, the longtime, founding executive director of the youth homelessness nonprofit the Mockingbird Society, who joined HSD just five months ago—and who helped devise the mayor’s recent declaration of emergency to fight homelessness—is leaving.
Lester’s email doesn’t shed much light on Theofelis’s curiously brief tenure at city hall.
I am writing to share with you the news that Jim Theofelis will be leaving HSD. Jim’s fresh perspective around the issue of homelessness over the past five month has been a significant contribution to our city team.
One of the key architects of the city’s state of emergency response, Jim helped to launch an expanded approach for the city’s outreach and engagement efforts to support people living unsheltered in our community. His ability to build strong partnerships, along with the credibility he holds in our community, were instrumental to the city’s initial success in addressing the needs of homeless students, preparing to bring a mobile medical van to Seattle, rethinking ways to support people living in their vehicles, and making additional shelter capacity available.
As the city moves into the next phase of its emergency response, Jason Johnson will provide executive oversight to the response, supervising Emily Nolan and Christa Valles in their respective roles as project manager and data lead.
Jim is looking forward to using his expertise in a broader policy and advocacy capacity. Although Jim is leaving his role at HSD, I am certain that we will continue to partner in different ways as he offers leadership and skills in supporting the goal that homelessness is rare, brief and one-time in our community.
Please join me in thanking Jim for his leadership, compassion and commitment to serving our most vulnerable neighbors.
Theofelis, whose MO at Mockingbird prioritized immediate action for homeless youth, was reportedly frustrated with both the city’s approach—which focuses more on long-term than immediate efforts—and the mayor’s temperament.
The mayor's office told me only that they didn't know the specifics of Theofelis's departure.
3. Outgoing state house finance chair, Seattle representative Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Queen Anne, Ballard) (he's moving up to the state senate), is getting some deserved recognition for his work making tax breaks more transparent. Carlyle is this year's recipient of the Ballard/Thompson award "Presented to a member or members of the state legislature who have demonstrated outstanding dedication to the cause of open government during the previous legislative session."
Carlyle, who had been pushing for years for more transparency, nudging his fellow legislators to justify why explicit budget expenditures were up for debate every two years while sneaky tax breaks (de facto expenditures) weren't—passed legislation this year that requires tax savings claimed by businesses to be public within two years.