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State’s no-soda-tax initiative sets ‘bad precedent’

(Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)

Seattle’s soda tax, and the ongoing effort to apply it at the state level, inspired Initiative 1634. Among other things, it would prevent local governments from imposing taxes on sweetened beverages. But even those who might be opposed to the soda tax do not necessarily support the initiative, as it could set a harmful precedent.

“I don’t favor that tax in any way or any of the other ones that seem to come out of places like Seattle,” Lake Stevens Councilmember Todd Welch told KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show. “But it sets a bad precedent on limiting cities on what they can do. I was elected by the residents of Lake Stevens to pass ordinances and regulations within it. I don’t want Tacoma or Yakima or Spokane telling me what I can or can’t do as a city councilmember.

“If the people of Lake Stevens don’t want me to pass something, they can either tell me not to or, if I do, they can vote me out of office. Because that’s what their power is.”

Upwards of 350,000 signatures have been gathered and organizers expect it to be on the November ballot.

Seattle’s 1.75 cents per ounce soda tax has raised approximately $4.5 million so far and caused a decline in soda sales in the city. Those funds are set to be directed toward healthy-food programs, community college scholarships, administrative costs, and early-learning programs. A portion of the revenue will also be spent on studying the tax itself and how it impacts people’s consumption behavior.

As Jason Rantz noted, there are several ordinances at the state level that inhibit city councils on specific issues, some of which may be favorable to communities such as Lake Stevens.

“There you run into the idea of the means justifying the ends. While we might like the end result that this entity can’t make these rules against me, the way you get there is still not, in my view, small government,” Welch said. “If you don’t like your government, then you either change it, or you can do what people all over the U.S. do, and move.”

For Welch, Lake Stevens has remained mostly unaffected by the ideas and ordinances coming out of Seattle.

“We’re a pretty down-the-middle city,” he said.

“I do see it starting to make some sort of creep into Snohomish County. Edmonds is starting to show signs with a lot of the regulations they’re passing. As people start to leave Seattle because of the prices, they still take their ideology with them when they go.”

But he’s noticed the pushback as well.

“I think people are pushing against the Seattle talk. We see a lot of people saying no to the idea of tolling. We’re also seeing a lot of things lose because of property taxes.”

Issues like the soda tax are best decided at the local level

At the center of issues — like a Washington state soda tax — are local communities deciding what matters to them. In smaller cities, councilmembers are likely to have more immediate contact with the people they’re representing, ultimately making it more difficult to pass unpopular decisions.

“I see my constituents at the grocery store. I see them when I get gas. They come to our meetings regularly,” Welch said. “I can’t avoid people and I don’t want to. When you talk Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane, that’s a totally different world because of how large they are.”

“But when you get down to the small ones, like us at 31,000, it’s easier to remove us from office. Our votes can go within five or ten votes, and you’re out of office that fast before you know it. Having more local control is a lot better.”

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