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Seattle soda tax a go

  • Jun 6, 2017 | Gail Cole

 Seattle joins a growing number of American cities that are taxing sweetened beverages.

After months of debate, the Seattle City Council voted yesterday, 7-1, in favor of a tax on the distribution of soda and other sweetened beverages. Councilmember Kshama Sawant was absent, and Councilmember Lisa Herbold was the one dissenting vote.

A 2-cent-per-ounce tax on the distribution of sugary drinks was initially proposed by Mayor Ed Murray in his February State of the City address. He later revised his plan after learning the tax would disproportionately affect “people with low incomes and people of color.” The plan he sent to the City Council called for a tax of 1.75 cents per ounce and also proposed taxing diet drinks laden with “noncaloric sweeteners.” Ultimately, the plan approved by the City Council taxes beverages with caloric sweeteners only; it exempts “any beverage that contains fewer than 40 calories per 12-ounce serving.”

Exempt beverages

The plan also specifically exempts several other types of beverages from the tax, including but not limited to:

  • Any beverage in which natural milk is the primary ingredient … or in which water and grains, nuts, legumes, or seeds constitute the first two ingredients in the product ingredient list
  • Any beverage for medical use
  • Meal replacement beverages
  • Baby or infant formula
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices with no added sweeteners

In addition to funding education programs, the tax will fund programs that expand access to “healthy and affordable food,” including Fresh Bucks and Fresh Bucks to Go. As Councilmember Herbold supports these programs, she issued a statement explaining her opposition to the soda tax: “This kind of tax will always be a regressive tax, meaning that the tax burden of this kind of tax will always be greatest on those with lower incomes. … I feel that [the bill] is punitive to low income people and small businesses … [and] has a racially disparate impact on people of color.”

The ordinance imposing a tax on engaging in the business of distributing sweetened beverages has been submitted to Mayor Murray for his signature. He is expected to sign it.

Read Council Bill 118965 for more details about Seattle’s soda tax, and these blogs for additional information about soda taxes nationwide.

Sales tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
Gail Cole
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail began researching and writing about sales tax in 2012 and has been fascinated with it ever since. She has a penchant for uncovering unusual tax facts, and endeavors to make complex sales tax laws more digestible for both experts and laypeople.