Mayor Ed Murray (D) of staunchly progressive Seattle has changed his proposed tax on carbonated beverages, which is intended to fund education for ethnic minorities in his city. The change would mean that diet drinks would be taxed because wealthy white people tend to consume them more. Murray originally proposed the soda tax in February during his state of the city address. Under Murray’s plan, distributors of sugary beverages would have to pay 2 cents per ounce.
Sodas such as Coke and Pepsi, as well as energy drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened teas, and bottled coffees such as those sold by Starbucks would be taxed. Murray claims that the impost would net approximately $16 million in annual revenue. Those funds would be spent on education with the intent of diminishing disparities between the white students and non-white students in school.
However, once his staff informed him that the tax would fall disproportionately on non-white consumers, Murray updated his plan. Minorities have higher rates of soda consumption than white residents of Seattle. Murray lowered the tax to 1.75 cents per ounce. He included diet drinks, which are favored by affluent white residents. In April, more than 150 small business owners had asked Murray to reconsider the tax. The Washington Beverage Association also lambasted the tax as being detrimental to small businesses.
Taxation on diet drinks, according to Reason magazine, is an “issue of equality” for Murray because more likely than not they are consumed by “upper middle class white people” and therefore must be taxed as a way to fight “white privileged institutionalized racism.”
While he is facing opposition for his soda tax, he also has been plagued by accusations lodged by four men who allege that he paid them for homosexual acts, and sexually abused, them as teenaged boys in the 1980s. One lawsuit, which was filed in April, claims that that Murray “raped and molested” the accuser for several years. The alleged acts began in 1986 when the accuser was 15 years old. Murray continues to deny the accusations.
Over the past six months, five cities and one county have approved taxes on sugary drinks as a way of capturing revenue while supposedly promoting public health. Seattle was the first jurisdiction to propose such a tax for the purpose of social justice. If the measure is passed by the Seattle city council, it could go into effect in January 2018.
In 2016, a number of soda tax proposals were passed across the country. However, in Santa Fe, a record 37.6 percent of voters in New Mexico’s capital city went to the polls on May 2 to reject a proposed two-cents-per-ounce tax on distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages. The poll results showed 11,533 votes (58 percent) against the measure and 8,382 votes in support. If it had passed, the tax would have equaled the levy imposed in Boulder, Colorado, as the highest in the country. The Albuquerque Journal reported that affluent voters were evenly split for and against the measure, while the city’s middle-income and lower-income voters were solidly against.
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, the American Heart Association, and local teachers unions, were among the proponents of the tax. They argued that the tax would bring in funds to provide preschool to 1,000 children whose families could not afford to it. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed $1.1 million to a local political action committee supporting the measure. In New York City, he had spent $3 million to pass a similar measure. The American Beverage Association spent over $1.3 million to defeat the tax.