Seattle’s City Council approved a bill enacting an increased tax rate on sodas and other beverages containing high quantities of sugar, becoming the newest city in the nation to prompt a soda tax to dissuade consumers from these products.
After a long deliberation, Seattle Council members agreed on a tax rate of 1.75 cents per ounce on all soda products, energy, and sports drinks. This includes Gatorade, Red Bull, pre-packaged coffee beverages, sweet teas, and certain juice beverages.
An equivalent tax rate will be placed on beverages sold from soda fountains in fast-food chains, restaurants, and convenience stores across Seattle. In its first year alone, the tax is expected to generate approximately $15 million in revenue.
Under the Council’s proposed plan, the majority of the revenue raised from the tax will fund healthy eating programs, such as Fresh Bucks. This organization enables those using SNAP/EBT benefits to buy more fruits and vegetables at “participating Seattle & King County farmers markets and farm stands.” Food banks and soup kitchens were also deemed eligible to receive funds.
Unless opponents to the soda tax successfully block the measure through a referendum, the cost of a 12-ounce can of soda will increase by 21 cents, and a two-liter bottle of Coke by $1.18.
An increasing number of medical experts and research studies have identified sugary drinks as the largest contributor of empty calories in the American diet. Ultimately, these empty calories are a contributing factor in higher rates of obesity and its associated medical costs.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 36.5 percent of US adults are obese, causing an “estimated annual medical cost of … 147 billion in U.S. dollars.” Those who are obese can expect to pay $1,429 more in medical costs than those with a healthy weight.
A number of labor unions and business groups such as the American Beverage Administration and the Martin Luther King County Labor Council expressed staunch opposition to the bill. These organizations are concerned that the proposed tax could result in job loss in communities vulnerable to abrupt changes in the economy: working-class individuals and small businesses.
To compensate, Council members plan to allocate up to $1.5 million for job training programs for those workers the tax may displace.
However, those aligned with the beverage industry weren’t the only ones opposed to the measure. Lisa Herbold, the only councilmember who voted against the measure, stated that the bill would disproportionately impact the poor. Rather, Herbold proposed amendments that would lower the tax rate and expand the measure to include diet soda and syrups used in some coffee beverages.
The amendment follows a similar recommendation proposed after the measure was placed under a racial-equity analysis; a number of council members favored including diet soda, effectively distributing the impact of the tax to different consumer bases. Nevertheless, the lack of conclusive scientific data on the consequences of diet soda consumption deterred the council from including diet soda.
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