In many ways, Initiative 1634 on the November ballot is a solution in search of a problem. The initiative would prohibit local governments from enacting taxes on groceries.
The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a “no” vote on the measure, preferring local control over taxes rather than a blanket statewide ban. As always, this is merely a recommendation. The Columbian trusts that voters will examine the issue before making an informed decision, and when it comes to Initiative 1634, such examination might lead to more confusion than it should.
That is because the measure is not really about imposing local taxes on apples or potato chips or milk at the corner store. Instead, it is a reaction to the Seattle City Council’s decision to tax sweetened beverages, a tax that took effect Jan. 1 and raised more than $10 million in its first six months.
In 2013, no municipalities in the United States had soda taxes; since then, at least eight sizeable cities have enacted such taxes, arguing that sugary drinks contribute to public health concerns such as obesity and diabetes. Taxes bring in money to support public health initiatives, and an increase in prices for the products is designed to reduce public consumption. This, understandably, has drawn the attention of the soft drink industry, and companies such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have contributed more than $8 million to the Yes! To Affordable Groceries committee to oppose the initiative.
We are strongly in favor of affordable groceries. Who wouldn’t be? But the campaign being waged is more than a bit misleading. Washington has not had a sales tax on groceries in more than three decades, and most basic items are exempt from sales tax. Therefore, to properly consider the initiative, questions should revolve around soft drinks.