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Soda tax advisory board clashes with Mayor Durkan in new report

The Seattle soda tax went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. (Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)

An advisory board commissioned by Seattle City Council released its first report regarding the use of soda tax funds, clashing with Mayor Jenny Durkan on how the money was spent.

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

“Ultimately, the adopted 2019 (soda tax) budget and spending plan did not fully align with the (advisory board’s) recommendations,” the report reads.

The Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board (CAB) was originally tagged by the council to advise the city on how best to spend revenue generated by the soda tax.

The CAB’s new report details nearly $23 million raised by the soda tax in 2018, far exceeding the city’s original $14.8 million estimate. Roughly $6 million of that went into the general fund, something that’s had both city council and the advisory board butting heads with Durkan.

That culminated in a recent showdown at City Hall, when Durkan vetoed legislation from the council to establish specific rules for how soda tax money could be spent. That veto was narrowly overturned in a subsequent 6-3 vote.

The CAB “strongly supported” the council’s measure.

“When the City passed the SBT ordinance, a promise was made to the people of Seattle to invest these dollars to expand existing and innovate new programs in food access and early childhood education programs. The CAB is committed to ensuring that the City keeps that promise,” said CAB co-chair Christina Wong in a recent news release.

Moving forward, the CAB’s recommendations on how to spend soda tax revenue differ from Durkan’s in a handful of key categories.

CAB soda tax budget recommendations
Recommendations from the CAB vs. Durkan’s own asks (SBTCAB report)

In her 2019 budget, Durkan proposes increased spending for healthy food and beverage access, and early support for infants and toddlers, but falls short of the CAB’s asks for programs promoting nutrition and physical activity, support for people with diabetes and obesity, and marketing campaigns to raise public awareness for healthy eating.

Are poor people funding government with Seattle’s soda tax?

The CAB labels Durkan’s proposed budget for those programs as “substantially lower” than its recommendations.

“SBT revenue should be used to expand, supplement, and innovate, not supplant, programs and services that address inequities in food access, health and education outcomes,” it notes in its report.

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