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Open Letter — Business Leaders Speak Out On the Seattle “Head Tax”

Matt McIlwain
May 8, 2018 · 7 min read

Over the weekend an organic movement arose amongst greater Seattle technology and innovation leaders. While they appreciate efforts by others, including the WTIA and Seattle Chamber, to have their voices heard on Seattle City Council’s proposed head tax, they felt it was important to publicly weigh in. This group represents tens of thousands of Seattle jobs and is diverse in many ways. Women and men. CEO’s, investors, and other leaders in the innovation ecosystem. Leaders working for smaller companies (that would not be impacted by the tax) and larger ones. From a broad mix of ethnic and economic backgrounds. And, from a broad mix of political perspectives.

Since the list includes several Madrona portfolio CEO’s, I was asked to publish the full letter and list of signatories here. Thanks for reading and considering the issues raised by this letter signed by over 100 business leaders. And, I hope it is productive to the discussions moving forward.

To the citizens and Councilmembers of the City of Seattle,

As CEOs, leaders, and investors in our region’s growing economy, from businesses small and large, the undersigned are opposed to the Seattle City Council’s proposed “head tax.” We all care deeply about the issues facing the city, and many of us already play an active role in helping. We oppose this tax and recommend an alternate approach.

Seattle is among the fastest growing cities in the U.S., thanks to our culture of innovation and collaboration, our welcoming approach to newcomers, and our profound natural beauty. We all proudly appreciate the benefits of this growth including a 3.1% unemployment rate which is well below Seattle’s 5.4% long term average. We also recognize its challenges. Our city’s infrastructure and public services must expand to support a growing population that expanded by 64,000 in 2016, and rising housing costs and homelessness affect our entire community. These problems won’t solve themselves. It will take collaboration and dialogue to come up with innovative solutions to maintain a thriving economy in our wonderful city.

The City Council’s proposal for a “head tax” is not a solution. Instead of a strategic plan to address growth, the Council has proposed to tax only 3% of our city’s largest business, charging them a flat rate per worker they hire, making businesses pay a price for creating jobs. This is like telling a classroom that the students who do the most homework will be singled out for detention.

We oppose this approach, because of the message it sends to every business: if you are investing in growth, if you create too many jobs in Seattle, you will be punished. Sending this message to entrepreneurs, investors, and job creators will cause far greater damage to Seattle’s growth prospects than the direct impact on the businesses being taxed. Not all of the undersigned are directly impacted by this tax, yet we all agree it is a bad idea.

A proper approach would combine evaluating the need for additional expenditures beyond the city’s 17.4% increase the past 3 years, tax revenue increases based on an optimal mix of taxes, a prioritized spending plan to address both housing and infrastructure, as well as new zoning and related policies to reduce the costs of housing and construction.

We are all aware of the challenges our city faces. As leaders in Seattle’s business community, it is our shared responsibility to offer solutions, not just criticism. We ask the City Council to set aside the misguided “head tax,” and to engage us in more dialogue. We will gladly help convene our city’s business leaders, labor leaders, and Council members, to collectively design a plan that works for all groups. We can also learn from how other cities have succeeded or failed to manage similar growth. We are not the first city to cope with hyper-growth; let’s learn from the best ideas of those before us.

Our city is stronger when we work together to find solutions that meet everybody’s needs. Let’s join forces to make a plan that sustains the growth our city is proud of, while also addressing the problems of housing, homelessness and infrastructure. That is what great cities do — let’s show our community and the world what Seattle can do together!

Signed,

Aaron Bird, Bizible, Founder & CEO
Aaron Easterly, Rover.com
CEOAdam Selipsky, Tableau, CEO
Adam Wray, AstrumU, CEO
Andy Dale, Montlake Capital, Managing Partner
Andy Liu, Unlock Venture Partners, Partner
Andy Sack, Founders Co-op, Co-founder
Arif Kareem, Extrahop, CEO
Barry Crist, Chef Software, CEO
Ben Slivka, Dreambox, Founder
Bill McAleer, Managing Director, Voyager Capital
Bill Owens, Red Bison LLC, Co-founder
Bill Richter, Qumulo, CEO
Bob Kelly, Ignition Partners, Managing Partner
Bob Nelsen, Arch Venture Partners, Managing Director
Bob Ratliffe, Silver Creek Capital, President
Brad C Kleinfelder, Plateau Software, Inc., Founder
Brad Jackson, Slalom Consulting, CEO
Brad Silverberg, Fuel Capital, Co-founder
Brad Tilden, Alaska Airlines, CEO
Brent Frei, Smartsheet & TerraClear, Founder
Bryan Trussel, Glympse, Founder & Chairman
Chad Robins, Adaptive Biotechnologies, Founder & CEO
Chia Chin Lee, BigBox VR, Inc., CEO
Chris Ackerley, Ackerley Partners, Partner
Chris DeVore ,Founders’ Co-op, Managing Partner
Chris Jostol, Mechanical Sales, Inc., President
Christopher Young, ChefSteps, Co-founder & CEO
Clayton Lewis, Arivale, CEO
Dan Lewis, Convoy, CEO
Dan Sheeran, Healthslate, CEO
Dan Todd, Influence Mobile, CEO
Daryn Nakhuda, Mighty AI, CEO
Dave Cotter, MessageYes, CEO
Dave Parker, DKParker, LLC, Managing Partner
David Naffziger, BrandVerity, Inc., CEO
Dawn LePore, Drugstore.com, Former CEO
Dhiren Fonseca, Centares, Partner
Doug Ray, HarborTech Mobility Inc., Founder & President
Doug Sackville, Commercial Office Interiors, President
Dylan Dias, Neal Analytics, CEO & Managing Consultant
Ed Lazowska, University of Washington CSE, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair
Eric Anderson, Planetary Holdings, Chairman
Ethan Caldwell, Marchex, Co-founder
François Locoh-Donou, F5 Networks, CEO
Galen Smith, Redbox, CEO
Grant Canary, DroneSeed, CEO
Grant Ries, LiveRamp B2B, CEO
Greg Gottesman, Pioneer Square Labs, Co-Founder
Hadi Partovi, Code.org, Founder & CEO
Hans Bjordahl, Culture Foundry, CEO
Heather Redman, Flying Fish Partners, Co-Founder & Managing Director
J Scott Codespoti, Paradoxes, Inc., Founder & CEO
Jason LaBaw, Bonsai Media Group, CEO
Jason Leekeenan, TraceMe, CEO
Jay Reitz, Axon, Seattle Office Lead
Jeff Hussey, Tempered Networks, Inc., CEO
Jeff Malek, Code Fellows, CEO
Jesse Proudman, Strix Leviathan, CEO
Jim Gaherity, Coinstar, CEO
Jim O’Brien, O’Brien Business GRP, CEO
Joe Heitzeberg, CrowdCow, CEO
John Connors, Ignition Partners, Managing Partner
John Gabbert, Pitchbook, CEO
John Maffei, Matcherino, CEO
John Stanton, Trilogy Partners, Founder
Jon Matsuo, Koverse, CEO
Jon Roskill, Acumatica, CEO
Jonathan Sposato, PicMonkey, Founder & Chairman
Kendall Kunz, Forms On Fire, Inc., Founder & CEO
Kevin Gemeroy, Dynamic Computing, CEO
Kiran Bhageshpur, Igneous, CEO
Kirby Winfield, Ascend.vc, Managing Member
Kristen Hamilton, Koru, Co-founder & CEO
Kurt Shintaffer, Apptio, CFO
Lauren Neiswender, Blue Nile, General Counsel
Manny Medina, Outreach, CEO
Mark Britton, Avvo, Founder & CEO
Mark Hadland, Level 11, CEO
Mark Liffmann, Omnidian, Inc., CEO
Mark Okerstrom, Expedia, CEO
Mark W. Meyer, CodeSmart, Inc., President
Mary Snyder, Seattle Luxury Homes, Founding Partner
Matt McIlwain, Madrona Venture Group, Managing Director
Michael Schutzler, WTIA, CEO
Mike Howell, Dolly, CEO
Mike Metzger, Payscale, CEO
Nancy Heen, Axelerate, LLC, CEO
Nick Huzar, OfferUp, CEO
Nikesh Parekh, Suplari, CEO & Co-Founder
Oren Etzioni, Allen Institute for AI, CEO
Paula Reynolds, Prefer West, CEO
Peder Schmitz, Columbia Pacific Wealth Management, Co-founder
Penny Milliken, HeR Interactive, CEO
Pete Christothoulou, Inspo Network, Co-founder & CEO
Peter Hamilton, TUNE, CEO
Peter Neupert, Adaptive Biotech, Fred Hutch, LabCorp, Board Director
Rahul Sood, Unikrn, CEO
Raj Singh, Accolade, CEO
Raja Narayana, Aditi, CEO
Rob Eleveld, Whitepages, Inc., CEO
Rob Glaser, RealNetworks, Chairman & CEO
Rob Lilleness, SmartLabs, CEO
Robbie Cape, 98point6, Co-founder & CEO
Robert Lehr, Evergreen ID Systems, President
Robert Nelsen, Arch Venture Partners, Managing Director
Rudy Gadre, Founders Co-op, General Partner
Sean Muller, iSpot.tv, CEO
Sethu Kalavakur, Tavour, CEO
Shauna Swerland Youssefnia, Fuel Talent, CEO
Sheila Gulatti, Tola Capital, Managing Director
Spyro Kourtis, The Hacker Group, CEO
Sridhar Chandrashekar, Optio3, Inc., Co-founder & CEO
Srikant Vemparala, 9Logic Technologies, President
Stead Burwell, Swisslog Healthcare, EVP
Steinar Sande, Raima Incorporated, CEO
Steve Banfield , ReachNow, CEO
Steve Murch, BigOven, CEO
Steve Shivers, Doxo, CEO
Steve Singh, Docker, Chairman & CEO
Sujal Patel, Isilon Systems & Ignite Bio, Founder & CEO
Sunny Gupta, Apptio, CEO
Ted Ackerley, Ackerley Partners, Managing Partner
Terry Drayton, Livible, Founder & CEO
Thomas Gobeille, NCA , President & CEO
Thor Culverhouse, Skytap, CEO
Tim Sooter, Legal+Plus Software Group, Inc., CEO
Todd Hooper, Vreal, Inc., Founder & CEO
Todd Owens, Azuqua, CEO
Tom Alberg, Madrona Venture Group, Managing Director
Tom Serry, RealSelf, Founder & CEO
Tom Taft, Laurel Group, Managing Partner

Media coverage of this letter

King5 — Alaska Airlines, Expedia denounce head tax in letter to Seattle Council

Geekwire — 130 tech leaders warn Seattle officials new tax sends dangerous message: ‘If you create too many jobs … you will be punished’

Bloomberg — Seattle Executives Join Opposition to New Tax to Fund Housing

Seattle Times — Wide range of Seattle businesses speak out against head tax proposal

MyNorthwest — 130 Seattle executives sign letter opposing head tax

KIRO — Local businesses oppose head tax in letter to City Council

KUOW — 131 businesses — but not Amazon — sign letter opposing head tax

Seattle PI — Connelly: Employee head tax is brainless policy, Chamber sponsored analysis

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