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News / Business

Grocers in Clark County support anti-tax measure

Big beverage companies back initiative

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 25, 2018, 5:28pm

Rising costs of business have led some Clark County companies to support a new ballot measure, backed largely by big beverage companies.

Initiative 1634 will likely go before voters in November, asking to prohibit city and county governments from taxing food and drinks. Although no tax has been proposed here, some businesses say they are already squeezed by costs of store space, labor and ingredients — as well as shoppers’ ability to avoid sales tax in Oregon.

At a miniature rally Wednesday at a doughnut shop in the Bagley Downs neighborhood, Jonette Molyneux, owner of Nana’s Tiny Cakes in Hazel Dell, said supporting the initiative would be a pre-emptive move to keep costs down now and in the future.

“They don’t realize how it affects us,” said Molyneux, 61. She and her husband opened the cupcake store five years ago and have since watched it grow from four employees to six. But she said they are impacted by statewide increases to minimum wage and the volatile price of goods such as vanilla and eggs.

“During the year, eggs have gone from $15 for 15 dozen to $46 for 15 dozen. Vanilla has gone up 200 percent,” she said. “You can’t keep changing your prices. It’s confusing to your employees and your customers.”

Sentiments like those were echoed by Yes! To Affordable Groceries, a group of stakeholders who are leading the initiative and organized the rally Wednesday. Among its members in Clark County, it said, are Tonallis Doughnuts & Cream in Vancouver, Ichi 16 Teriyaki in Ridgefield and Pasta Gigi’s Battle Ground Bistro. Spokesperson Felicia Heaton said many businesses in Southwest Washington are on edge already because they feel customers can cross into Oregon to avoid sales tax.

“This isn’t new, but when it comes to taxes and where people are buying, they have a pretty easy option in Portland. It’s not a stretch to say that,” Heaton said about Clark County’s competition. State economists tend to agree, but they have said losses in sales tax revenue are hard to quantify.

Yes! To Affordable Groceries reports more than 1,000 members around the state, although its top four contributors are giant, out-of-state soft drink companies who have kicked in more than 99 percent of its contributions. The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsi Co., Dr Pepper Snapple Group, and Red Bull North America have combined for more than $6 million in contributions. Its next biggest contributor is the Washington Food Industry Association with $20,000.

Columbian staff writer