Seattle City Council voted to approve the sugary beverage tax in a full council meeting on Monday afternoon, with a vote of 7-1 (Councilmember Kshama Sawant was absent).
The newly-approved tax means calls for an extra 1.75 cents per ounce on sweetened drinks like soda, sports and energy drinks.
Though many councilmembers expressed interest in revisiting the diet drink debate down the line, diet drinks remained excluded from the final tax, a move that many critics called regressive.
Supporters hope the tax will help fund educational programs and close the learning gap between white students and students of color, while also curbing consumption of unhealthy sugary beverages. An amendment passed unanimously Monday afternoon also includes putting tax proceeds towards food banks & meal programs.
The sugary beverage tax has gone through a few iterations since Mayor Ed Murray introduced the idea during his State of the City address. Ultimately, the finalized proposal called for a tax of 1.75 cents per ounce of sweetened beverage.
Media: The Mayor’s Office
The legislation Murray sent to the council also included diet drinks and other artificially sweetened beverages after speaking with public health officials and community advocates, who pointed out that diet sodas and other drinks that use non-caloric sweeteners are favored by richer and whiter demographics, meaning that, statistically speaking, the tax would end up hitting people of color and low-income communities harder.
When the tax passed out of the council’s finance committee last Wednesday the council had removed diet beverages from the list of taxed products.
Councilmember Tim Burgess said he excluded them because the science is inconclusive on whether diet sodas have harmful effects on public health in the same way sugar does. Although Councilmember Lisa Herbold attempted to re-include diet drinks, in order to curb the regressive nature of the excise tax, it failed to pass the committee by a vote of 4-3.
Herbold did propose an amendment to lower the tax to 1.25 cents, as well as apply the tax to coffee drinks (which are a bit murky as the bill stands), which also did not pass.
“I drink diet soda, I drink sweetened coffee; I’m trying to actually tax the unhealthy product that I consume, because I just don’t think it’s fair to not spread the costs of food security programs and early childhood education programs to people like me,” Herbold said while introducing her amendment.
A few of the public commenters who spoke at the City Council meeting on Monday afternoon voiced their support for the tax but asked that the council include artificial sweeteners in the tax.
Many of the people who spoke out against the tax were restaurant and store owners who called the tax a “business killer,” whose “means do not justify the cause.”
Similar taxes have been approved by voters in San Francisco, Oakland, Boulder and more, although few area as steep as Seattle’s would be.
As approved, Seattle’s sugary beverage tax is expected to yield about $15 million annually to start out.