Soda taxes and pollution fees: What’s your stance on carbon?

Jul 5, 2018, 3:27 PM
seattle grocery, sugary drink tax, soda tax, sugary beverage tax, taxes, carbon...
The Seattle soda tax went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. (Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)
(Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)

Washington voters will be asked to take a stand on carbon via the the 2018 November ballot — from very different angles. Initiatives are being proposed for a new carbon pollution fee, and also for safeguarding carbonated beverages from added taxes.

RELATED: I-1639 draws gun control controversy

Former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna says that voters can expect a “war of rhetoric” as opposing sides fight to pass, or defeat, the initiatives.

I-1643: Keep groceries affordable aka “no soda taxes”

Initiative 1634 aims to prevent cities from mimicking Seattle’s recently imposed sugary drink tax, McKenna said. The initiative is promoted by the organization Yes! to Affordable Groceries. While the word “groceries” is prominent throughout the initiative, it’s primary target is likely soda and sugary drinks. Food is generally not taxed in Washington.

“This tax is designed to rein in the taxing authority of local governments, starting with the City of Seattle that imposed a soda tax,” McKenna said. “And the counter punch by the grocery industry is to take away the city’s authority to impose taxes on specific products. Although they do carve out alcoholic beverages, marijuana, and tobacco; local governments would still have discretion there. And regular food is not taxed anyway right now.”

“Interestingly, this proposal does not call out soda specifically in the language,” he said.

The I-1634 effort is backed by the soda industry with four of the world’s largest beverage companies pushing it forward. The Seattle City Council approved a sugary drink tax in 2017. It went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. It didn’t take long for Seattle customers to start noticing the rather steep rise in many beverage prices. It nearly doubled the cost of soda at Costco, for example.

The initiative could be viewed as a response from the industry that Seattle’s tax affects. McKenna says that the way the initiative is worded will likely help it pass.

“Here’s why this measure is probably going to pass: It’s title is ‘An Act Relating to the Taxation of Groceries.’ That’s as far as most people will go,” McKenna said. “The short title is ‘Keep Groceries Affordable Act of 2018.’ Again, most folks are not going to read much farther than that and it will probably pass as a result.”

I-1631: Not a tax, but a carbon fee

Initiative 1631 is Washington state’s latest effort to place an added cost on carbon polluters. It aims to get around lawmakers in Olympia — who have failed to pass a carbon tax in recent years — and impose a fee on carbon. Money raised would go toward clean energy in the state.

It sounds simple enough, but McKenna says a fight is brewing over the specifics of the issue. Voters may have the opposite reaction to the carbon fee than with the carbonated beverage initiative. They are wary of any initiative that can result in added costs to them.

“It’s conceivable they could promote clean energy by actually providing subsidies to alternative energy like solar and wind, for example,” McKenna said. “They also say they want to address climate impacts on the environment and communities, although it’s not entirely clear how that will work.”

“The main point, frankly, of this initiative is to make carbon-based energy sources more expensive,” he said. “I think opponents of this measure will immediately start characterizing this as a higher-gas tax, because fees imposed on refineries will get passed through to consumers as higher products costs.”

Clean energy in Washington state, ever since Initiative 937, excludes nuclear and hydro-electric power. So “clean energy” as defined by state law is limited to sources like wind and solar. The other form of energy, fossil fuels, will be subject to the carbon fee. That will be the main opposition to the initiative.

“Opponents are going to come out and say, ‘Hold on, what you are really doing is making energy more expensive, and that is going to be passed through to you as a consumer,’” McKenna said. “So they will just call it a gas tax and that will be the war of rhetoric that we’ll see through to the November election.”

Local News

Nurses admit a patient transferred from the ICU COVID unit to the acute care COVID unit at Harborvi...
Nicole Jennings

Legislature debates WA hospital staffing ratios as healthcare labor problem steeps

Hospital administrators and health workers are divided over a bill that would mandate staffing ratios in different hospital departments.
1 day ago
homes, single family zoning, moving company, Puget Sound housing...
Nick Bowman

Puget Sound housing market hits record numbers as prices continue to soar

Despite historically low inventory, the Puget Sound region housing market set records in 2021, as prices continued skyward.
1 day ago
MyNorthwest Staff

‘Right to repair’ bill would give Washington state consumers control over electronics repair

Washington state’s Legislature is considering a consumer protection bill intended to make it easier to repair personal electronics.
1 day ago
Nick Bowman

State lawmakers take up abortion debate amid uncertain future for Roe v. Wade

The national debate surrounding abortion and reproductive rights is also taking place in Washington during 2022's legislative session.
1 day ago
downtown shooting...
KIRO Newsradio staff

Open investigation after downtown Seattle shooting sends one to hospital

A 31-year-old man was transported to Harborview Medical Center on Wednesday after a shooting in downtown Seattle.
1 day ago
COVID Washington two years...
Nick Bowman

2 years after Washington identified nation’s first COVID case, future of pandemic remains unclear

As of this week, it's now been exactly two years since the first case COVID-19 cases was identified in both Washington and the United States. 
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles


Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
Soda taxes and pollution fees: What’s your stance on carbon?