Editorials

The ‘grocery tax initiative’ is not what you think. I-1634 is a misleading measure

Initiative 1634 would prohibit local taxes on retail food and beverage sales in Washington state

Voters will decide this November whether they want to avoid the possibility of a local grocery tax, like the soda tax levied in Seattle starting in January, by voting on Initiative 1634.
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Voters will decide this November whether they want to avoid the possibility of a local grocery tax, like the soda tax levied in Seattle starting in January, by voting on Initiative 1634.

The ads pushing Initiative 1634 suggest a grocery tax is imminent.

Don’t be fooled.

There is no immediate threat that your food bill will go up if I-1634 fails.

This ballot measure is deceptive, and aims to protect soda industry profits by frightening people into giving up local government control.

We recommend a “no” vote on the initiative.

State law already exempts most groceries from the sales tax, including meat, produce, bread and dairy products.

Proponents of I-1634, however, say the measure is necessary to close a “loophole” that allows city and county governments to impose taxes on specific food items – such as sugar-laden beverages.

At the beginning of the year, Seattle officials launched a tax on soda and other sugary drinks in an attempt to bring in new revenue and then direct money toward early childhood education and healthy food programs.

Now the American Beverage Association is on the defensive, and its preemptive strike is I-1634 in Washington and Measure 103 in Oregon.

Backers of the proposals say we are on the edge of the proverbial slippery slope, where a tax on soda would eventually lead to a tax on meat, bread, carbs and other food items that overzealous health advocates might deem harmful.

But their argument is focused mostly on what-ifs, and not on what is actually happening.

Seattle is often Washington’s outlier, and not necessarily a trendsetter for other communities around the state – especially in Eastern Washington.

We find it hard to believe city councils and county commissions in the Tri-Cities would impose a sales tax on soda if citizens oppose the idea.

So then the question is: Should we deny other communities the opportunity to raise revenue with a soda tax if it is something those residents support?

We think not.

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Initiative 1634 is being pushed by the soda industry, and would prevent communities from imposing a tax on sugary drinks. Opponents say local control should not be sacrificed to protect the profits of big beverage companies. File Tri-City Herald

For us, this is not a debate about whether or not soda should be taxed. This is about whether citizens should relinquish local authority.

We know our position goes against that of business groups, farm and labor organizations, grocers and restaurant owners. They fear the possibility of a soda tax so much, they want to prevent even the suggestion of it.

The Pasco Chamber of Commerce is in that camp. It’s executive director, Colin Hastings, Hispanic Chamber President Nikki Torres and Jim Dressler of the I-1634 campaign, met with the Tri-City Herald Editorial Board to discuss why they support the measure.

They are concerned taxes on groceries would burden working families, and that farmers would be hurt if sales taxes were added to the food products they supply. Hastings believes Seattle’s soda tax will spread.

We understand those concerns, but we don’t think local control should be sacrificed in order to stop something that has yet to become an issue.

Vic Coleman, who leads the Washington Healthy Kids Coalition and opposes I-1634, said the initiative is “made-up worry,” and that communities tend to tread lightly when it comes to imposing new taxes.

Coleman clearly sees a benefit in taxing soda in order to encourage people to buy healthier drinks, and his group notes that a third of American adults are obese and children today are already our most overweight generation.

Again, if residents in another town want to promote good health by taxing soda, we think they should have that option.

Besides, 98 percent of Initiative 1634’s funding comes from the soda industry, which is currently at $13 million with the majority of the contributions coming from out-of-state companies like Coca Cola and PepsiCo.

Protecting the bottom line for the soda industry is the primary motivation behind I-1634, and that’s unsettling.

The Tri-City Herald recommends a “no” vote on I-1634, the Grocery Tax initiative.

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