Seattle’s mayor says a proposed tax on distributors of sugary drinks will help raise millions per year to fund education programs.
Mayor Ed Murray announced the proposed two-cent per ounce tax on Tuesday during his 2017 State of the City address.
The proposed tax would help fund new investments in education, as recommended by the Education Summit Advisory Group. The recommendations are “aimed at reducing disparities between white and African-American/Black students and other historically underrepresented students of color.” Investments would also be made for “Birth-to-Five” programs such as the expansion of the Parent-Child Home Program, as well as expanding access to healthy food.
The tax would apply to all distributors, regardless of size.
The products subject to the tax include:
• Liquids with a specified amount of caloric sweetener, syrups and powders that are used to prepare sugary beverages
• Sodas (such as Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew)
• Energy and sports drinks (such as Monster, Red Bull, Gatorade, Powerade)
• Fruit drinks (such as Sunny D)
• Sweetened teas and ready-to-drink coffee drinks (such as Arizona, Starbucks)
The ordinance exempts beverages such as those with 100 percent fruit juice, in-store prepared coffee beverages, infant formula, medicine, and would not apply to “diet” beverages.
Soda tax around the country
As the New York Times reported, soda taxes are gaining widespread acceptance around the country, with voters in San Francisco, Oakland, Albany, Calif., Boulder, Colo., and Cook County, Ill. approving ballot measures in favor of soda and soft-drink taxes in November. They joined Berkeley, Calif., which passed a tax two years ago, and Philadelphia, which passed one in June.
The Philadelphia City Council approved a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary and diet beverages last year. Julia Terruso of the Philadelphia Inquirer told Seattle’s Morning News that residents are “not reacting well.” One of the big arguments against the tax is that it would fall hard on low-income families — the same families the additional money is designed to help. Bloomberg also reported that the six-week-old tax on sweetened beverages has some drink distributors and grocers reporting sales drops of as much as 50 percent.
Still, advocates of these types of taxes point to the more negative public opinion on soda in recent years, with the growing belief that sugary drinks contribute to maladies such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes.
The soda tax is not new in Seattle. Several years ago, then-Mayor Mike McGinn said it could help raise money for parks. In 2010, state lawmakers in Olympia passed a budget package that enacted nearly $800 million in new taxes, including taxes on cigarettes, bottled water, beer, candy and soda. The taxes were repealed less than a year later after a multi-million dollar, American Beverage Association-backed initiative.
More than 60 percent of state voters approved Initiative 1107 in the November 2010 general election, which repealed the new taxes. However, voters in King County upheld the taxes.