Initiative 1634 aims to stop a future “soda tax”

A sign inside the glass of a Seattle drugstore drink cooler informs customers of the new “Soda Tax.” A classic 20 ounce bottle of Coca Cola might be priced at $2.00 but cost $2.35 due to the cola’s sugar content. (Photo by Mikaela Lobe)
A sign inside the glass of a Seattle drugstore drink cooler informs customers of the new “Soda Tax.” A classic 20 ounce bottle of Coca Cola might be priced at $2.00 but cost $2.35 due to the cola’s sugar content. (Photo by Mikaela Lobe)

Initiative 1634, an initiative that moves to stop any additional or increased taxes on groceries, is on the Washington ballot this fall, a little over a year after the city of Seattle enacted a “soda tax.”

The aim of the statewide initiative, which was backed by a coalition of beverage companies, is to prohibit “a local government entity from imposing or collecting a tax, fee, or other assessment on groceries on or after January 15, 2018.”

This initiative came after Seattle’s tax on beverages with sugar went into effect on Jan. 1, which placed a 1.75 cents per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened drinks like soda, juice, and syrup concentrates. The tax means that in Seattle, a 12-pack of 12-ounce cans of sweetened soda would be taxed an additional $2.52. The tax does not apply outside the city limits.

The tax was enacted by the city of Seattle in 2017 and was expected to raise $15 million, with the money from the tax primarily intended to support programs such as those that close education disparities and the city’s FreshBucks program, which provides additional money to families on EBT and SNAP to buy fresh produce.

Supporters of the soda tax told The Seattle Globalist that they also hoped the tax would encourage healthful choices by decreasing soda consumption.

Despite Seattle’s soda tax money being targeted toward disadvantaged communities, dozens of minority business owners throughout the state have endorsed I-1634, from ethnic restaurateurs to mini-mart owners to Subway franchisees.

According to KUOW, Daniel Kim of the Korean American Grocers Association of Washington said his sales dropped by 30 percent after the enacting of the tax — with many customers unaware of the tax until they reached the register with their drink.

“They just drop it and leave the store,” he told reporters.

Drugstores, grocery stores and restaurants in Seattle have had to adapt to the additional cost that the tax brings to their businesses. Many stores and businesses have posted warning signs, preparing consumers for the bump in price that they may see at the register.

While it won’t repeal Seattle’s soda tax, I-1634 would put the brakes on potential rises in Seattle’s tax and stop any other city from enacting a tax on groceries.  The tax for soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages would not legally be allowed to be any higher than it was on Jan. 15.

A significant majority of the funding to support the initiative has come from major soda corporations such as PepsiCo, Inc. and The Coca-Cola Company.  Together, these two companies have donated over $16 million toward “Yes! To Affordable Groceries” — the campaign to pass the initiative.

In total, the “Yes! To Affordable Groceries” committee has raised $20.21 million in cash, almost entirely from national soda corporations. The Washington Food Industry Association also contributed $20,000.

Though the support committee says the initiative is a way to ensure affordable groceries, critics such as Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times see the initiative as a move by beverage companies to keep their profits up.

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