The campaign against the head tax had far more resources than the campaign for it. Bring Seattle Home, the pro-tax group formed at the end of May, had raised just $30,000, about one-tenth of what No Tax On Jobs had brought in. The anti-head tax campaign also had help from influential sources. The Seattle Times has run seven editorials against the head tax since the city council introduced it on April 20, warning the city that the tax would kill jobs and hurt the city’s business climate. The newspaper said in May that it would also be affected by the head tax, as company president Alan Fisco told reporter Benjamin Romano that the tax “will be an additional financial burden that will take resources away from our news gathering and business model transformation.”
Slowly, Seattleites’ minds changed. Internal polls by pro-tax groups supporting showed that although 69 percent of people approved of unions, and that many had a low regard for corporations, around 55 percent of people wanted the head tax repealed, according to a person involved in the discussions who was not authorized to speak publicly. A year ago, a poll had found that 66 percent of Seattle residents supported a tax on the highest earners.
What changed council members’ minds about the head tax, though, was the tenor of the campaign to oppose it, which began to morph into a broad criticism of Seattle’s city council and its members. One ad, for example, showed a picture of council member Mike O’Brien with the headline, “Councilmember O’Brien admits that the City Council has no plan,” and was paid for by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, according to The Stranger. The No Tax On Jobs campaign successfully shepherded the anger of hundreds of city residents over homelessness into anger at the city council itself. Council members and their progressive allies began to worry that not only would they lose the referendum, but they’d also get voted out of office come November. “It would be a very bad outcome if we lost horribly at the ballot, and they all get booted out this year,” Wilson told me.
This was, in some ways, very much the point, according to the Chamber of Commerce’s Redman. Many Seattle businesses were fed up with a council that they saw as increasingly hampering their ability to do business. The secure scheduling legislation that gave workers more predictability on their hours was creating a lot more paperwork for businesses; Seattle’s minimum wage was forcing companies to leave town, and the rhetoric that big businesses were creating Seattle’s problems were making even liberal businesspeople uncomfortable, Redman said. “It’s this perfect storm: You say you hate us, and we don't think you’re effective,” Redman said. “It’s become this untenable situation.”
Notes from a meeting of the Downtown Seattle Association, a group of Seattle businesses, confirm that No Tax On Jobs was trying to use the issue as a rallying call for fed up businesses. Tim Ceis, a general consultant to the No Tax On Jobs campaign, told the meeting that the referendum would not just be on the tax, but also on “the city council and how they have been stewards of tax dollars,” according to leaked meeting minutes. “What do we want? A new city council,” he reportedly said. Jack McCullough, a board member of the Downtown Seattle Association, then told the meeting that the tax was “an opportunity to take back our city” that members may not see again in their lifetimes.