Proponents of Initiative 1634 say it is to prevent taxes on essential food items, but this is misleading. Voters should reject this measure, which is really an industry-funded campaign to prevent cities from enacting taxes on soda.
Backers of Initiative 1634 say the ballot measure is desperately needed to stop taxes on essential grocery items.
But this core argument — boosted by deceptive videos of a concerned mom bagging produce, and a woman fretting about seniors having to “cut out special nutrients” — obscures what I-1634 is really about.
In reality, I-1634 aims to prevent local governments from enacting new taxes on soda and sugary drinks, which experts say increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Voters should reject I-1634 so that local governments can continue to decide for themselves how to best address these health issues in their communities.
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Nearly all the money for the campaign to pass I-1634 — a committee misleadingly named Yes! To Affordable Groceries — comes from large soda manufacturers. Of the $13 million the I-1634 campaign has raised, all but about $20,000 comes from Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Red Bull and the company that makes Dr Pepper.
Still, the “yes” campaign continues to argue that I-1634 isn’t just about soda. Rather, its backers insist the measure is needed to stop Seattle-esque soda taxes from spreading to other categories of food, such as meat.
The need for an initiative to combat this alleged threat is far from clear, however. During an editorial-board interview, I-1634’s proponents struggled to come up with examples of any cities in the United States that have successfully enacted targeted taxes on basic grocery items besides sugary drinks.
Given that Washington state law already exempts most food items — but not soda — from sales taxes, the idea of local politicians extending a sin tax to otherwise tax-exempt grocery items would be incredibly unpopular. Politically, it’s unlikely — even in a heavily left-leaning place such as Seattle.
It’s not even clear that other cities in Washington state are actively considering new taxes on soda right now. So far, Seattle is the only city in Washington to enact one.
I-1634 would not affect the sugary-drink tax that took effect in Seattle earlier this year but would prevent other cities in Washington state from passing similar taxes in the future.
The coalition urging a “no” vote on I-1634 includes groups such as the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association. They argue that local governments should have the option of taxing sugar-laden soda and that the taxes can be effective at steering people toward healthier habits.
Indeed, other jurisdictions that have enacted such taxes, including Berkeley, California, saw consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages decrease after the start of a local sugary-beverage tax. Meanwhile, consumption of untaxed drinks (including water) went up.
Similar results have been reported in Philadelphia, where Drexel University researchers found residents said they were 40 percent less likely to drink soda after the local tax went into effect.
An evaluation of the public-health effects of Seattle’s sugary-drink tax is still ongoing. But in its first six months, Seattle’s tax raised more than $10 million, which will pay for things such as healthy-food programs, early-childhood education and community-college scholarships.
Fundamentally, this debate does not need to be settled at the state level. Rather, proponents of soda taxes and those who oppose them should be able to make their case before local city councils and county commissions. No good reason exists to block these local discussions by passing a statewide ban.
Washington voters shouldn’t allow a deceptive campaign paid for by soda giants to override local decision-making when it comes to how to best combat obesity in local communities.
They should vote no on I-1634.