OLYMPIA -- The Legislature did just this side of bupkiss in public Friday, to the chagrin of folks who bottle, distribute and sell soda, and some state employees hoping to make a point about layoffs.
A coalition of folks opposed to a proposed soda tax gathered on the steps of the Capitol this morning, hoping to make the most of media exposure before lobbying senators showing up for a full day of work.
But the schedule changed late Thursday and the Senate held only a pro forma session in which one Democrat and one Republican were on the floor for about 90 seconds until the gavel came down to go away and come back at 2 p.m. Saturday.
The House was also in pro forma, which is Latin for "we'll get around to important stuff eventually", and is also due back Saturday afternoon.
So the 50 or so soda pop tax folks out numbered visible senators roughly 25 to 1. (Heck, the number of reporters outnumbered visible senators by 2 to 1.) Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, who managed the floor for the majority party, insisted that lots of work was going on behind the scenes on budget and taxes.
Out on the steps, members of the anti-soda tax coalition insisted the new tax was unfair and would cost the state jobs. Ron Bradford of the Coca Cola Bottling operation in Spokane, said a fairer tax would be an increase in the sales tax.
"Overall, I think the people of Washington would accept it if this was a tenth of a cent or two," said Bradford. The bottling operation has about 100 employees in production and distribution in Spokane, he said, but he's not yet sure how many jobs would be lost if the tax went through.
The soda tax amounts to about 2 cents on a 12 ounce can, or 50 cents on a case. It's really a double tax, Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, said because the tax goes on at the wholesale level, then is part of the amount subjected to the sales tax at retail.
He, too, argued the state should raise the sales tax, rather than pick from a menu of smaller taxes on soda, beer, bottled water, candy and gum
"It's an issue of fairness," Gilliam said. "Why should soda drinkers be more responsible for schools or prisons?"
The anti-soda tax coalition bought full-page ads in The Spokesman-Review and the Seattle Times Friday to drive home their point.As a counterweight, Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition , a group supporting the soda tax and other increases in the still-not-officially-released-because-we-might-not-have-the-votes tax package put up radio ads supporting it.
A group of state workers from the Department of Social and Health Services, which announced layoffs Thursday, planned a lunchtime march from their Olympia office to the Capitol, with hopes of sitting in the Senate gallery to help make their point. Before they were even close to the building, however, the pro forma session had opened and closed.
Anti-soda tax people said they'll be back Saturday. So too, in all likelihood, will be squadrons of folks opposed to other taxes in the package. Could be an interesting four days, which is all the Legislature will have left in the special session. The opponents will be trying to peel off votes just as hard as Democratic leaders will be trying to add and hold them.