The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Seattle Soda Tax Not Doing Too Well

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


While the rest of us were popping champagne to celebrate the arrival of 2018, Seattle greeted the New Year with a 1.75 cent per ounce tax on sweetened beverages.  It was needed, former Mayor Ed Murray once said, for a host of noble reasons: to reduce sugar consumption; to raise revenue for important projects like a year of “free” community college for all graduating public high school students; and, to subsidize purchases of healthy foods by low-income families.

Before he resigned in disgrace over multiple allegations of personal misconduct, Murray considered the soda tax one of his greatest accomplishments, a “cutting edge piece of legislation,” with Seattle setting an example for the whole nation.

Seattle policymakers should have paid more attention to what happened in Cook County, Ill., which repealed its soda tax last year within two months after a tremendous public outcry.  Let’s be clear.  Soda taxes don’t make people healthier.  They don’t raise revenue—they drive it outside city limits.  They don’t help ease inequality—they make the poor poorer.  Soda taxes don’t unite the city around some vague sense that everyone will be healthier—they unite diverse coalitions in opposition to them: Bernie Sanders and libertarians, labor unions, and businesses all come together to express strong opposition to these regressive, job-killing taxes.

Seattle’s soda tax is particularly burdensome.  A case of Gatorade that cost $15.99 on December 31, 2017 now costs $26.33, an increase of more than 64 percent. 

Fortunately, business managers and customers are not stupid; retailers like Costco have posted signs directing customers to locations outside city limits where shoppers can buy the product without paying the massive tax.  Already, there is evidence that people are voting with their feet and buying drinks in the suburbs, depriving Seattle of the revenue it claims to need.  The same thing happened to Philadelphia when it implemented a soda tax.

Seattle’s tax does not apply to sugary drinks that list milk as their primary ingredient, such as many flavored coffee beverages.  To their credit, Starbucks rejected their hometown tax. 

The west coast is often ground zero for politicians who pride themselves on social engineering.  In fact, a study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University released on January 3, 2018 revealed that three of the top five states with the most paternalistic laws are California, Oregon, and Washington.  Nanny staters have looked to Seattle to fulfill their dream of running our lives.  The people of the city need to speak up and end this nightmare. 

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