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Spokane City Council shoots down speculation on ‘soda tax’ to pay for police

UPDATED: Tue., May 23, 2017, 7:19 p.m.

FILE – In this April 15, 2017 photo, a shopper walks among stacks of discount soda at a Wal-Mart store in Santa Fe, N.M. The Spokane City Council sent a letter to businesses Monday saying they weren’t pursuing a soda tax like the one considered in Santa Fe. (Morgan Lee / AP)
FILE – In this April 15, 2017 photo, a shopper walks among stacks of discount soda at a Wal-Mart store in Santa Fe, N.M. The Spokane City Council sent a letter to businesses Monday saying they weren’t pursuing a soda tax like the one considered in Santa Fe. (Morgan Lee / AP)

The Spokane City Council is not imposing, or asking voters to impose, a tax on sugary drinks.

That’s the message to owners of restaurants and other small businesses contained in a letter the full panel agreed to Monday, which several lawmakers said should put to rest the false impression they were proposing the tax to pay for police.

“There is no ordinance, there’s no ‘there’ there,” City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said.

The idea for a tax had been kicked around by some council members earlier this year, when a culture audit of the Spokane Police Department showed officers felt overworked and understaffed. A tax on sugary drinks, including pop, could provide the revenue necessary to hire more officers, the reasoning went.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said Monday he intended to “float the idea” but it was clear there wasn’t council support for the tax.

“But I’m anxious what everyone’s thoughts are on getting more cops,” Stuckart said.

Councilman Breean Beggs, who also suggested the idea but said he was never its “champion” on the council, was not ready to say such a tax should be completely off the table, but he said it was never on the table in the first place.

“I wouldn’t say it’s done; it never existed as a proposal,” Beggs said.

Mayor David Condon does not support the idea of a soda tax, spokesman Brian Coddington said.

Owners of local restaurants had shown up at City Council meetings in recent weeks to implore the panel not to approve such a tax, even though there was nothing on the ballot or the council’s agenda on such a matter. Beggs said the City Council continues to wait for the results of a police department-wide staffing report that will give lawmakers an idea of how many additional patrol officers the city needs.

Council members have been asking for the study to allow them to make a request in the budget for additional officers next year. Lawmakers have suggested at least 10 new patrol officers should be included in next year’s budget.

City Councilwoman Amber Waldref said at this point she couldn’t support a new tax without an understanding of how many more officers are needed.

“I think there’s a whole bunch of issues with a soda tax. I think it’s regressive,” Waldref said.

Waldref also said she was frustrated by an apparent effort by certain industries to dissuade the council from adopting a tax it wasn’t considering.

“They were lobbying against nothing,” she said.

Opponents pointed to the political turmoil caused by the imposition of a sugary drink tax in Philadelphia that took effect earlier this year, proposed by that city’s Democratic mayor and approved by their City Council. Grocery stores and soft drink manufacturers have announced layoffs as a result of decreased sales, while lawmakers have accused the business of gouging prices to drum up opposition to the tax.

Kinnear said she was concerned about the effect on Spokane businesses if a tax were levied, likely sending consumers down the road to Spokane Valley or elsewhere for their sugary drinks.

“I would say it’s completely off the table at this point,” Kinnear said.



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