The purposed legislation to tax sugary drinks in Seattle is designed to fail, and nearly everyone involved looks clueless.
The Seattle policy was originally intended to go after sugary drinks only, but it was quickly pointed out to Mayor Ed Murray that the tax, then, would disproportionately target communities of color since research indicates they tend to purchase these drinks the most. Murray, after initially shrugging off the concern, then decided to tax diet soda too, so that wealthy white people would also be taxed. At this week’s Seattle City Council meeting, diet soda was removed from the list since it’s perceived to be healthier than sugary beverages.
This bill cannot be successful no matter how you view it.
The tax is meant to help fund education programs to assist low-income children, such as with summer learning programs and college scholarships. But the only way it would help fund these programs is if low-income communities of color continue to consume beverages at their current rate. This tax hurts them more than it would an Amazon computer programmer who doesn’t consume much regular soda. So, in order to help fund these education programs, you have to take money away from the very communities you hope to serve.
But there are health benefits if the sugar tax stops low-income communities of color from consuming the beverages. Awesome! That helps save them money in the long-run from the health consequences of soda consumption. Only, if your tax stops people from consuming the drinks, then the kids you want to help with these education programs don’t get the funding you say they need!
It’s lose-lose. Buy the soda, you take money from the poor. Stop them from buying soda, you keep money from programs meant to help the poor. This is a tax, by its very design, destined to fail.
So who looks good in all this? Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold who voted no on the policy, citing the regressive nature of the taxes. Kudos to them.