Arrow-right Camera
News >  WA Government

Spin Control: Take talk on grocery taxes with a grain of salt

In this June 17, 2014, file photo, a shopper looks at an item in the dairy section of a Kroger grocery store. While supporters seek to push through an initiative prohibiting taxes on food and beverages, Spin Control reminds us that Washington has taxed groceries in the past. (LM Otero / AP)
In this June 17, 2014, file photo, a shopper looks at an item in the dairy section of a Kroger grocery store. While supporters seek to push through an initiative prohibiting taxes on food and beverages, Spin Control reminds us that Washington has taxed groceries in the past. (LM Otero / AP)

After stories about the filing of signatures for an initiative to prevent local governments from taxing groceries and soda, several alert readers called or wrote with the same question:

Didn’t Washington have a tax on groceries in the recent past?

The answer is, it depends – on your definition of groceries, what kind of tax you mean and what you consider the recent past.

The state did levy a sales tax on groceries along with most other things bought retail until voters got rid of it by an initiative in 1977. During the recession of 1981-82, the state was strapped for cash and then-Gov. John Spellman got the Legislature to approve bringing it back temporarily. That move made some legislators’ terms temporary as well, because many Republicans who were elected in 1980 on a no new taxes pledge got unelected for approving the tax.

In 2010 – also in the middle of a recession – the Legislature extended the sales tax to bottled water, soda and candy, which under some systems are classified as grocery items. Voters repealed those taxes that November, after a $15.7 million campaign funded chiefly by the American Beverage Association.

Last year the Legislature extended the sales tax to bottled water as part of a package of taxes to help pay for more money for schools. It remains in effect, despite a nonbinding advisory vote in which 59 percent of voters said those taxes should be repealed.

These are all different from the tax on soda and some other sugary beverages that has been levied in Seattle, because that’s a tax per ounce, not a tax on the sale price. Coming up with a per-ounce levy for other grocery items might be difficult.

So as the soda industry tries to establish its bulwark against taxes like the one in place in Seattle – which is grandfathered in under the initiative so it won’t have to change – take the talk about taxes on the grocery cart with a grain of salt. Which is a grocery item.

Online debating

One of the problems of a crowded primary ballot is the problem it presents for people who like to factor debates into their selection process.

With 29 candidates running for U.S. Senate, it would be almost impossible to find a time when all could show up, a stage big enough to hold them, and a format that would allow them to do more than a two-minute opening, one question for all to answer in a minute, and a two-minute closing.

TVW offers statewide candidates a chance to participate in a Video Voter’s Guide with a clip of up to five minutes, if they’re willing to come into the studio and take advantage of it. But not everyone does, and those who do aren’t debating, they’re making their own pitch which is part biography and part personal campaign platform.

A website known as EZ Debate thinks it has an answer, or at least part of one. It invited all 29 candidates to respond to six topics: gun control, immigration, foreign trade, health care costs, the greatest threat facing the nation and the most important issue facing the state.

As an incentive for candidates, the website has the voter’s guide statement and a “click here” button to make a campaign donation.

After a candidate responds, another candidate who has already responded can rebut his or her comments on any of the topics. It makes for lots of recorded comments – more than most voters can tolerate in single sitting – and some repetition. But so far, 10 of the 29 have recorded segments, and one of them is offering rebuttals to most of his opponent’s comments.

It’s a good thing the internet is a big place, because this could use up a lot of megabytes.

EZ Debate is offering a similar setup for Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District, but so far only Dave Saulibio, a Trump Populist, has shown any interest.

Also online

Is it possible to have an open house without a house? The State Department of Transportation thinks so.

It’s sponsoring an “online open house” to get residents’ thoughts on improvements to U.S. Highway 395 between Pasco and Spokane. The state set aside $15 million for safety improvements on the highway, and DOT wants some feedback on its plans with a survey.

They’ll be accepting drop-ins at https://395openhouse.com. No gift necessary. Provide your own hors d’oeuvres and libations.


Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter

There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email webteam@spokesman.com

You have been successfully subscribed!