When the Trump administration proposed adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census back in March, more than two dozen states and cities, along with the US Conference of Mayors, promptly filed lawsuits to block the move. The plaintiffs included few surprises: States like California, New York, and Illinois, along with cities like Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco, all signed on to legal action. But in recent weeks, something unusual has been happening: unlikely cities in unlikely states—think Columbus, Ohio; and El Paso, Texas—have begun stepping forward, joining the lawsuits without the state-level support enjoyed by the first wave of plaintiffs.
Last week, the city of Phoenix became the latest to jump into the legal fray when City Council members voted to pursue a lawsuit against the federal government, a move that ran in direct opposition to their state’s decision in April to steer clear of the lawsuits. The councilmembers’ primary argument was a financial one: If the Census includes a question about citizenship, Phoenix’s many noncitizen residents will likely skip the questionnaire, depressing the count and leading, ultimately, to a huge reduction in federal funds for the city.
How huge? Phoenix Deputy City Manager Karen Peters estimated thst the city could lose as much as $350 for each person not counted by the Census, leading to losses of more than $107 million per year. (Others, meanwhile, suggested the figures could run even higher if some citizens also opt out). “Phoenix and its residents have too much to lose in the 2020 Census count if it’s not done right,” Mayor Greg Stanton said in a statement.
But Phoenix isn’t the only place where activists got busy this past month, and the Census wasn’t the only battleground. A tax that demands accountability from large corporations. A program to restore drivers licenses to tens of thousands of residents. An effort to curb mass incarceration by banning private jails. These are just some of the efforts proposed and passed in May by cities seeking a more progressive path forward.
Here are the details.
Seattle vs. Amazon
It’s not every day that a city takes on one of the 21st century’s most powerful monopolies. But earlier this month, Seattle’s City Council voted unanimously to divert money from the coffers of the city’s mega-corporations—among them Amazon—to help pay for the needs of struggling renters and the homeless. The new tax, which targets companies making at least $20 million in gross revenues a year, is expected to generate $47 million, which amounts to about $275 per employee of the taxed corporations. With this money, the city plans to build or preserve nearly 900 units of affordable housing and to provide services for the homeless.
“The city’s homelessness crisis has been in a state of emergency for three years now,” says Lisa Herbold, a Seattle councilmember who sponsored the bill along with councilmembers M. Lorena Gonzálex, Mike O’Brien, and Teresa Mosqueda. “But we are also said to have the single most regressive tax structure in the nation. We have a really difficult lack of options to address our growing revenue needs.”