Vote yes on 1107 to repeal unfair taxes on food and beverages

By Kathryn Stenger
Yes on 1107 Coalition

As an Edmonds resident and small business owner in Snohomish County for more than 20 years, I’ve been amazed at some of the poorly written laws that have come out of Olympia. The recent tax scheme the legislature imposed on foods and beverages, however, is one of the worst. 

That’s why I’m voting yes on 1107, to repeal the Legislature’s new taxes on food and beverage products.

The politicians in Olympia imposed new and higher taxes on thousands of grocery products, including soda, carbonated fruit juices, snacks, baking products, and candies and bottled water. Small, family-owned, local distributors of beverage products are being hit hard as well as other Washington-based businesses, including confection makers, food companies and grocery stores. Taxes were also increased on Washington businesses that produce locally-made canned and packaged food products containing meat, fruits and vegetables. 

These new taxes will cost Washington state grocery shoppers and businesses more than $300 million over the next three years. It is important for voters to remember that not one penny of these taxes is dedicated to anything specific. It all goes into the general fund for the politicians to spend any way they want.

As a mom, and a grocery shopper, I’m also concerned because these new taxes on food and beverages make no sense.  This could be explained by looking at the way in which these tax increases were passed into law: During the final hours of a special legislative session without adequate public input or time for debate, the Legislature rushed through a complicated, unfair tax scheme that is poorly written, costs Washington consumers hundreds of millions of dollars, and puts Washington businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

The Legislature’s new tax scheme is so complicated that many grocers — particularly small, independent grocers — are left scratching their heads about which products are taxed and which are not. You’ve heard the stories: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are taxed, but a Twix bar is exempt. It’s ridiculous. Grocers are now spending time reading candy-bar ingredient labels and consulting the Department of Revenue’s website to figure out what to tax and what not to tax.

Some grocers have given up and simply tax it all. Predictably, the government said that was fine as long as the tax money was remitted to the state! So now, not only will consumers pay sales taxes on confection and candy purchases, but Washington grocery stores are now burdened with costly new bookkeeping requirements and red tape.

And the Legislature’s new taxes apply to more than just candy and soda. The new taxes are applied to baking items like the chocolate chips we stir into homemade chocolate chip cookie recipes, and the fruit snacks I buy for my daughter’s lunch box. Even healthy snacks like yogurt covered raisins, honey roasted nuts and organic energy bars are defined as “candy” and taxed – along with sugar-free candy and soda, and carbonated juice drinks.  Meanwhile, a Kit Kat bar is defined as “food” – and not taxed – because it contains flour.

Even worse, all the new taxes go to the state’s general fund. This is the same general fund that has grown some 43 percent over the last 10 years — to a current budget of $35 billion. My family, like others, has tightened the belt significantly since this recession started; why can’t Olympia show the same fiscal restraint? Spending by our state’s politicians has risen every year since these tough economic times started, and now they are taxing our groceries.  What items in the grocery store will Olympia decide to tax next?

A yes vote on 1107 — to repeal the new taxes on food and beverages — is supported by more than 30,000 Washington consumers, businesses and organizations, including the Northwest Grocery Association, the Washington Restaurant Association, the Washington Farm Bureau, the Washington Association of Neighborhood Stores, the Association of Washington Businesses, NFIB and many others. I urge my Edmonds neighbors to join with us in voting YES on 1107—to repeal the unfair and confusing taxes on foods and beverages. Thank you!

Kathryn Stenger is a mom and small business owner who lives in Edmonds, and is a spokesperson for the YES on 1107 Coalition.

  1. While I certainly don’t know all of the fine print in the bill to tax convenience food and beverages, and it sounds like there are some technical kinks to work out, I do not believe that this bill needs to be repealed. As a medical obesity specialist, I can tell you that the vast majority of foods and drinks that are taxed under the new legislation are not healthful foods. That includes the chocolate chips that you stir into your homemade chocolate chip cookies.

    Foods that are high in sugar and other highly refined ingredients, which comprise the overwhelming majority of the foods that are taxed, all significantly contribute to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and numerous other diseases of Western society. Given the obesity epidemic in our country (34% of us are obese & 34% are overweight), it is in the citizens’ best interest to be deterred from buying these foods.

    While it is causing a hassle now, and is affecting some small business owners, it will be better for all of us in the end if we reduce our consumption of these foods. Obesity, heart disease, and diabetes–the big three-cost us all plenty in terms of medical costs, lost wages, and quality of life. If this epidemic continues, I wonder how healthy our society, work force, and military will be in 10-20 years. A sickly population (and military) has been the decline & demise of many a society. The health of one affects the health of us all. Ultimately, the citizens of this state will save billions of dollars by significantly reducing our intake of these foods.

    I, too, am a small business owner and understand the issues that small businesses face. As the owner and sole employee of my small medical practice, my state B&O taxes increased 20% this spring. I pay this money hoping that it will be used to educate our children and adults, provide health care, and provide other essential services. It breaks my heart to see all of the cuts occurring in these areas.

    As a reminder, Initiative 1107 received the majority of its funding from large corporations, not from the citizens of this state.

    Sandra M. Christensen, MSN, ARNP
    Medical Obesity Specialist

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