If the Seattle soda tax doesn’t reduce consumption, should it be cut?

Jan 10, 2019, 6:05 AM

seattle soda tax...

(Dyer Oxley, KIRO Radio)

(Dyer Oxley, KIRO Radio)

The Seattle soda tax has been a gusher of money for the city, like when you shake up a bottle and open it. Nearly $17 million was collected in the first nine months alone — 97 percent of the tax was passed on to consumers.

That’s well beyond the $15 million that city officials expected to raise for the entire year. The soda tax is a big money maker, but what should be done with the extra money?

“It should not go into general funding, it should be kept to service the people who are consuming the beverages. If the goal is to get people to reduce consumption, and taxing it doesn’t reduce consumption, then it should go for healthcare treatment or education,” said 710 ESPN’s Danny O’Neil.

“Because we know people who drink sodas statistically skew toward poorer communities, and then you’re essentially taxing the poor more, which many of us would consider pretty unconscionable.”

According to University of Washington researchers, sodas have increased in price more than sugar-sweetened juices and bottled coffee drinks, and smaller stores have increased their prices more than supermarkets, reports The Seattle Times.

RELATED: Study: 97 percent of Seattle soda tax passed on to consumers

If it’s eventually determined that the tax isn’t altering behavior in any way, the question is whether the tax would be deemed a failure and cut, or should remain in place as a source of funding for related healthcare and education.

“If we get years down the road with this, and soda consumption has not dropped, what do we do?” Danny said. “If everything shows that after we made it more expensive, people buy it. And if we educate them and tell them how bad it is for them, and they still buy it, do you keep doing that tax?”

That’s not an issue for KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney, who believes the Seattle soda tax experiment should be permanent.

RELATED: Seattle council questions mayor’s plans for extra soda tax money

“We have no problem with sin taxes, we tax the hell out of alcohol, why? Because we figure that it’s probably good for society,” Tom said. “If you’re going to drink alcohol, you’re going to have to pay for it. I don’t know if taxing alcohol is done because it lowers alcoholism rates. No, it’s a way to make money off something that society hasn’t deemed a social good.”

But the two aren’t comparable, according to Danny.

“Nobody gets hopped up on Mr. Pibb and then is unable to speak and has to go to jail,” he said. “The social costs of alcohol are much greater. If none of it helps reduce soda consumption, it’s stupid to leave the tax in place.”

John Curley and Shari Elliker on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to tom and curleyTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 3pm for John Curley and Shari Elliker.

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If the Seattle soda tax doesn’t reduce consumption, should it be cut?