Something sure seems off with Seattle’s experiment with the soda tax. A telltale sign is that they’re in a “nasty spat” down at City Hall about all the extra money it’s spinning off.
What the mayor and City Council suddenly are warring over is what to do with the windfall created by the 18-month-old soda tax’s surging revenues.
But the real issue is, or ought to be, the booming soda-tax revenues themselves.
The main point of even having a sugary beverages tax is to blunt consumption of sugary beverages. Seattle’s tax, imposed in 2018, roughly doubles the price for a 12-pack of soda, so the city estimated consumption could logically plunge up to 40 percent.
That doesn’t appear to be happening.
In its defense, the city didn’t really know how much soda was drunk in Seattle, and so its initial estimates for how much money the new tax would raise were more of a guess. In the first year, the program brought in 49 percent more money than expected ($22.4 million versus $15 million estimated).
“Until we started to tax soda, sweetened beverages, we had no idea what level of consumption occurred in the city,” city budget director Ben Noble told the council recently. “We know the level of consumption now … With a year’s worth of experience, we think we’ve got this just about right.”