Our Voice: Don't let cities tax foods

Editorial Board of the Statesman-Examiner and Deer Park Tribune

Leave it to the state of Washington to make Mr. Pibb a political pariah. Along with his sugar-infused brethren — like Dr. Pepper, Snapple, Mountain Dew and Red Bull — Mr. Pibb has been cast as the insidious mastermind behind Initiative 1634, a measure on the Nov. 6 general election ballot that would limit the ability of local governments to tax groceries.
The biggest proponent of the initiative is “Yes! To Affordable Groceries.” The biggest opponent is “Healthy Kids Coalition.”
Opponents of the initiative like to note that the soda industry is the biggest cash contributor to the assurance of I-1634’s passage. What opponents fail to realize is that the initiative is about more than just ensuring Pepsi stays cheap. A bigger argument for passage is its ability to close a loophole that city governments might exploit to fund projects where money is not readily available. As long as there are enough pop-drinking and Twinkie-eating constituents to foot the bill, then the government can fund whatever it wants.
If a project is actually important to a city’s well being, however, then a voter-approved tax increase is the best avenue for finding money. That way, residents know why they are being taxed and where their dollars are going. And government has no option but to be upfront and honest. In addition, the argument that a tax on refined sugar products would hit everyone equally holds little merit.
While the argument might be valid in a perfect world, the truth is that most of us, especially those in Eastern Washington, do not live in a perfect world. An overwhelming number of studies have shown most of the food that would be impacted by a tax increase is more often consumed by low- and moderate-income people. Hence, the people who would feel higher grocery bills are those who can least afford them.
Now, you might argue pop and sugar are bad for low- and high-income alike, and that a pop-tax would discourage people from making bad choices and developing bad habits. But is this really the role of city government? Nope. That’s mom’s job.
Washington voters are not the only ones considering an initiative limiting local taxes on food items. Voters in Oregon are facing the same ballot measure.
If the initiatives are approved, the states will join Michigan, Arizona and California in saying “no” to such a practice.
Make local government say it to your face, and leave character training to mom.
Initiative 1634 is a good measure to support.

— Our Voice is an editorial drafted by the editorial board of the Statesman-Examiner and Deer Park Tribune.