Friday, November 18, 2011

Seattle Council Supports Occupy Movement's Request to Look at Its Investments

Seattle Times
Lynn Thompson

Dorley Rainey after being pepper sprayed in Seattle
The Seattle City Council on Monday unanimously adopted a resolution in support of Occupy Seattle that calls on the city to examine its banking and investment practices, home-foreclosure patterns and the financing of local elections.

The resolution was a grab bag of proposals meant to provide a local response to the concentration of wealth and abuses in the financial sector that the Occupy Wall Street protest and its regional offspring have called attention to in encampments and rallies around the country this fall.

"Working together, we can fix our broken economy and fix our broken social contract," said Councilmember Nick Licata, who sponsored the legislation. He said that, at the very least, the city can make sure public funds are reinvested in the community.

Other cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Buffalo, have passed resolutions in support of the Occupy protests.

The Seattle resolution did not call for a city income tax, as an earlier draft had proposed, but did call on the state Legislature to work toward a more equitable tax structure and to fully fund public education as a way to continue to provide economic opportunity. It also called on Congress to support job creation by investing in the country's infrastructure, tightening banking regulations and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire.

It's not clear how much practical effect the resolution will have. The city's finance director said very little of the city's money is in commercial banks. The city does do business with Wells Fargo, but the bank is essentially a pass-through as the city moves money into long-term assets or pays bills, said Glen Lee, finance director.

The city does give tax breaks to a range of businesses, from church-sponsored day-care centers and nonprofit adult family homes to banks with international facilities that pay about one-third less than other businesses, Lee said.

"I look forward to examining these issues with the council," he said.

About 60 people from the Occupy Seattle protests attended the City Council hearing and gave a standing ovation to Licata when he spoke in favor of the resolution. The protesters spoke of their personal experience, from financial hardship and homelessness to unemployment and heavy student loans.

One likened the nation's current economic outlook to joining a game of Monopoly that's already in progress.

"All the properties are already owned and wherever you land, you're screwed," said Michael Dare, who organizes the Occupy encampment at City Hall Plaza.

The council resolution, which was joined by Mayor Mike McGinn, also reflected some of the ongoing tension within the city as officials try to honor the rights of protesters to speak out and peacefully assemble as well as the work of the Seattle Police Department, which must protect public safety.

The resolution notes both the First Amendment right of activists and "the important responsibility" of the police to protect those rights "while, at the same time, appropriately enforcing City laws and regulations."

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