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Seattle council: Durkan soda tax bill veto ‘a complete waste of time’

A sign indicating higher prices of sugary drinks due to Seattle's soda tax. (Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)

Seattle City Council’s clash with Mayor Jenny Durkan continued Monday, labeling a recent veto from the mayor on a soda tax funding bill a “complete waste of time.”

Durkan reiterates veto threat, cites ‘irresponsible’ soda tax vote

Back in July, the council passed a measure outlining specific rules for how soda tax funds can be used. The goal was to ensure all of the money goes toward expanding healthy food options, food banks, and promoting healthy eating. The new rules state the money can’t be swapped for general fund dollars to pay for similar existing programs.

Durkan threatened to veto the measure shortly after it passed, claiming that it would lead to significant cuts to several community programs, including food banks, senior meals, and childcare assistance. She followed through with that threat on Friday, officially vetoing the legislation.

The council will convene on Monday, August 12 to vote to overturn Durkan’s veto. Many remain irked that it came to that at all.

“I think it’s a complete waste of time to do this, [but] this will give us an opportunity to reiterate the false narrative about us making decisions that are hurting some of our most vulnerable,” Council President Bruce Harrell said in a Monday briefing.

Other councilmembers called out the Mayor’s Office for its claims that the measure hurts other key city programs, and accused her of overstepping her authority.

“I have been frankly disturbed by the rhetoric I’ve heard coming out of the Mayor’s office, that have really done a disservice to what our role is as a city council,” said Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez on Monday. “I think the veto is really more about a statement against this mayor wanting to see her executive power curbed, as opposed to the substance of the issues.”

“Let’s be clear, there’s nothing in the legislation that took money from current programs,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said in a letter addressed to the Mayor’s Office in July. “It is a miscommunication. It is intentionally misleading to tell any community organization that funding is at risk.”

Councilmember Mike O’Brien also noted that this is just the second veto to come out of the Mayor’s office in nearly a decade.

How this all started

The tax itself has paid immediate dividends since it was enacted in January 2018, earning $22 million, $5.7 million more than the city originally estimated. It faced criticism, though, when that extra money went into the city’s general fund.

“[We] did a lot of door knocking and we promised people in the community that this money was going to come back to them because they were going to be the ones most impacted,” Got Green food access organizer Tanika Thompson said at a June public meeting. “And I kind of feel like I let them down. That’s just because there was money taken away from them and put into the general fund. That was exactly what they were concerned about.”

Seattle soda tax: Scare tactics, politics, and a veto promise

That had the council draft legislation to provide more specific language concerning how that soda tax money could be used, passing it by an overwhelming — and veto-proof — 7-1 margin.

District 4 Councilmember Abel Pacheco was the lone vote against the measure. That same margin will likely vote to overturn Durkan’s veto next Monday.

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