The travel day started uneventfully. I got to the airport in plenty of time for my flight to Newark. The plane loaded and left on time, and actually landed in Newark about 20 minutes early.
Then, it all went horribly wrong.
Because we were early, and because the airlines never want to leave a gate unoccupied, of course there was a departing plane at our gate. So we waited for the plane to leave. Then the captain announced that there were a bunch of other planes looking to use the same runway, so we would have to wait for the runway to clear. Then — and this was the unbelievable part — the captain came on the intercom again and let us know that the captain of a plane in front of us had pulled into our gate by mistake, and the ground crew would have to back that plane out and reposition it before we could be towed into our gate area. All told, we sat on the ground at the Newark airport for almost an hour.
It wouldn’t have been so bad but for the guy sitting next to me. He was one of those guys who answers his cell phone using his hands-free option, so everyone around him can hear his incredibly important calls. He was upset to begin with, because we all got to hear that there was some kind of billing snafu at his business, and as the delays mounted he got increasingly agitated — first muttering, then loudly complaining, and finally throwing around f-bombs that didn’t exactly have a calming influence on the other passengers. We all were inconvenienced by what had happened, but this ticking time bomb had to act like it was all about him.
Then my fellow passengers acted like jerks in the scrum to get the gate-checked bags, milling around rather than lining up and not caring if they blocked everybody behind. And when I got to the taxi stand, a loud altercation between the cabdrivers broke out because one driver was accused of cutting in line. As I settled into my cab, with a driver who’d just been engaged in a red-faced, gesturing shouting match featuring an unknown foreign language, I wondered what might happen next: volcanic eruption? earthquake? Cats and dogs living together? Mass hysteria?
I’m going to have to ask the Jersey Girl whether flying into Newark is always like this.
Seattle is home to some of the largest corporations in the world, with one — Amazon — growing like crazy and fueling a boom in downtown construction. But when Seattle politicians decided to impose a tax on large employers in the city to deal with a homelessness crisis, Amazon very publicly decided to pause work on a new downtown office building until after Seattle City Council votes on the tax.
The proposed tax would have a real impact on businesses. It would be a “head tax” of $500 per employee on approximately 500 businesses that gross at least $20 million annually in Seattle. For Amazon, which currently has about 45,000 workers in Seattle, the tax would cost more than $20 million in 2018 and 2020, with that tab increasing when the form of the proposed tax would shift to a .7 percent payroll tax in 2021. Even for a company that is highly profitable — Amazon recently reported quarterly income of $1.6 billion — $20 million a year isn’t chump change.
Amazon typically doesn’t mess with local politics in Seattle, so its pause in construction planning until after the City Council vote has had a real impact. One City Council supporter of the tax accused Amazon of attempting “blackmail,” but other voices in city hall and in the real estate development community shuddered at the thought that the company might stop its investment in Seattle. The concern is only heightened by Amazon’s announced search for a new city in which to build a second headquarters — a process that is already underway, in which Columbus and other cities have made the first cut. Some people are concerned that Amazon might just direct its growth exclusively to the new home of “HQ2,” leaving Seattle in the dust.
Why should large employers, alone, pay a tax to address Seattle’s growing homelessness problem? Supporters of the tax say that the large tech companies have contributed to the problem by bringing in highly paid workers who have caused a spike in home prices and rents — the median price for a house in Seattle is a whopping $820,000 — and that has contributed to the homelessness problem. The sponsors of the tax also note that Seattle doesn’t have an income tax or tax capital gains, and claim that the city has few options to raise funds to address homelessness. It’s curious, though, that the tax would be limited to only large employers, as opposed to all employers, or that it doesn’t target various forms of real property transfers. After all, a lot of people have presumably made a lot of money selling property that dramatically increased in value due to Amazon’s growth — why shouldn’t they contribute some of that profit to address the homelessness problem?
The reaction of the City Council member who characterized Amazon’s decision to pause construction as extortionate reminds me of the hubris that caused cities like Detroit to assume (wrongly) that large employers wouldn’t move away — or the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs. As Amazon’s experience in its “HQ2” search proves, other cities would welcome a large employer that offers thousands of workers high-paying jobs. The reality is that Seattle needs Amazon more than Amazon needs Seattle. Does it really want to risk killing the goose?