When the state Supreme Court tossed out I-722 in 2001, and it’s arbitrary and unworkable two percent cap on growth in local property tax revenues, did initiative sponsor Tim Eyman give up? No, he just came back the next year with I-747 and its even more arbitrary and unworkable one percent cap, a measure that is as much a cause of today’s local government budget woes as the Great Recession.
Vindictive and irresponsible? Sure. But you gotta give Tim credit for playing political hardball. In fact, as hard as it is for me to type this, I kinda wish that Democrats in Olympia could be a little more like Tim.
For example, take last year’s tax on candy, bottled water and carbonated beverages, which was projected to raise $216.8 million in the coming biennium. This was a sensible, reasonable, temporary tax on nonessential items with known negative health impacts, intended to help offset cuts in healthcare spending. But in an effort to send a loud message to legislators and governors nationwide, the American Beverage Association cynically spent an astounding $16 million successfully repealing the tax with their incredibly dishonest and self-serving Initiative 1107.
In response, Democrats in Olympia seem to be hanging their heads in despair, bemoaning how voters sent a message or something about being opposed to taxes—as if taxes are ever an easy thing to put past voters statewide, even without $16 million in anti-tax lies flooding the airwaves. But that’s not how Tim Eyman would react. No, he’d just come back with pretty much the same proposal the next year. Only this time, he’d double it. And in fact, that’s almost exactly what I propose our Legislature should do.
If Coke and Pepsi want to play hardball with the welfare of our state’s children, then I say it’s time to swing the bat, and aim for the fence. Forget about candy and bottled water, let’s just pass a tax on carbonated beverages, and instead of a mere two cents a 12-ounce can, let’s up it to a nickel.
What’s that mean in actual tax revenue? Well, according to I-1107’s fiscal note, the two-cent per can tax on carbonated beverages would have brought in more than $41 million a year over the coming two-year budget. So up that from two cents to five, and you’re looking at about $205 million over 24 months… a not inconsequential amount when the alternative is, say, eliminating tens of thousands of children from our state’s health care rolls.
So if Coke and Pepsi want to come back and spend another $16 million or so arguing that a nickel a can is too much to pay to provide basic health care to children, well, I say let ’em. It would be an economic windfall for our state’s TV stations, but this time around with none of that bullshit about it being a tax on food; we’re taxing just carbonated beverages.
And best of all, even if the beverage industry runs another initiative and succeeds in repealing the nickel a can tax, we’d still collect more during the six months from June through November that the tax would be in place—over $50 million—than last year’s carbonated beverage tax would have brought in over an entire year!
And that’s the kinda win-win-win that comes from playing political hardball.