I-1634 will decide whether to ban food taxes like Seattle's

SEATTLE – One of the more controversial measures on the statewide ballot next month could have an impact on your grocery bill.

Initiative 1634 would ban cities from following Seattle’s lead and imposing a tax on sugary drinks. Seattle itself wouldn’t be affected, however.

Supporters say it would stop local governments from taxing more of your groceries. Opponents argue it’s a much needed-tool to improve public health.

“Food should not be taxed under any circumstances for anybody, ever,” Tacoma resident Carl Chalker told Q13 News.

Sammy Abera’s family has owned a corner store in Seattle’s Central District for more than 20 years. He says his sales have slumped since Seattle started taxing sweetened drinks.

“I’ve noticed a decline,” Abera said. “More and more people are shopping outside of city limits and not going to small corner stores like we have here, because they can get it a lot cheaper.”

Abera is one of the business owners backing I-1634, which would ban cities from enacting taxes not just on soda and sugary drinks, but potentially other food categories as well.

“I don’t think that’s a choice that should be made for our customers,” said Kyle Saar, General Manager of Saars Marketplace and Saars Super Saver Foods, which has 9 stores throughout Western Washington. “I think they (customers) should be the ones making the decision.”

Other supporters say the initiative will stop a regressive tax that hits working-class and minority families hardest.

“The people who make the decisions literally don’t understand how income comes into a household in working families,” said Martha Montoya with El Mundo newspaper.

Opponents, of course, have a different take.

Aaron Pickus is the spokesperson for No on 1634. He says Seattle’s working poor are actually benefiting from the city’s tax.

“What’s on the ballot right now is whether or not local towns and cities should have the control to make their own choices,” Pickus said.

Some of the money, for instance, goes to a program called Fresh Bucks that helps people on food stamps buy fresh, local produce.

“It’s amazing to think of all the shoppers who were not coming to the (farmer’s market) before,” said Jennifer Antos, the executive director of Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets. “Or the shoppers who are now coming and their spending power is increasing.”

Angelica Hayton is a local farmer who says she’s benefiting as well.

“These sales without Fresh Bucks wouldn’t happen,” Hayton said. “Families wouldn’t come and buy our berries with cash or credit card. Those families wouldn’t come to the farmer’s market. They wouldn’t have the money, it would just be lost sales for us.”

The Seattle Times editorial board came out hard against the initiative, calling it “misleading” and “deceptive” maneuvering by the soda industry.

“Washington State Law already exempts most food items – but not soda—from sales tax,” the Times points out.

Companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and Red Bull have put up nearly all of the more than $20 million supporting the campaign. Most of that money goes to commercials now bombarding the airwaves.

“They know If they can’t win if they rely on the facts, so they are going to try to spend money to buy the election,” Pickus said.