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Soft drink tax would add real pop to budget

Richard Roesler The Spokesman-Review

One of the most interesting things Gov. Christine Gregoire mentioned in a meeting last week with The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board was that until a couple of weeks ago, her budget proposal included a tax on soda pop.

It’s not a new idea. Former Gov. Gary Locke proposed such a tax among the “sin taxes” in his final, lame-duck budget proposal in December – and was roundly mocked by Republicans who questioned whether a Pepsi really qualifies as a sin. The issue has come up in previous years as well. Soda pop syrup is already taxed by the state, but Locke was looking at something more along the lines of a nickel-a-can tax.

Gregoire said she torpedoed the idea after lawmakers objected. Her budget director, Victor Moore, said the industry was unhappy at the prospect of the drink tax.

Still, taxing pop is likely to remain an attractive fix for budget writers struggling to come up with money to pay for state services. For one thing, it’s kind of like cigarette taxes (which Gregoire is proposing raising). Sugary soda and its empty calories, some lawmakers have argued, are a prime reason for the growing number of obese children. Make it cost more, the argument goes, and public health will improve, at least marginally.

Secondly, there’s real money in a soda tax. Lawmakers have plenty of tax options to look at, but many of them raise the Olympia version of chump change.

Tax bakery products, for example, and you can expect about $27 million a year. Tax candy and gum: $16 million. Tax funeral homes: $4 million.

Even if the state charges every household in the state a flat $2-a-month “energy tax,” it would still raise only $55 million a year. And when weighed against a $26 billion general fund, those amounts are what some lawmakers call “budget dust.”

A nickel-a-can tax on soda, however, would raise $301 million over the next two years. That’s enough general-fund dollars to run Eastern Washington University, the Washington State Patrol, the state park system, the Department of Ecology, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the governor’s office.

Combined. For two years.

Welcome to our in-box

A sampling of the first wave of e-mailed press releases reacting to Gov. Christine Gregoire’s two-year, $25.8 billion budget proposal:

“Gregoire budget reverses some cuts to state’s most vulnerable”

“New taxes, gimmicks in Gregoire budget disappoint Republican fiscal leaders”

“Governor’s budget a ‘half step’ in the right direction”

“Gregoire breaks campaign pledge, moves to raise taxes”

“Gregoire plays budget shell games to avoid vote of the people”

“Gregoire budget contains necessary spending cuts, unnecessary tax increases”

“Gregoire funds educator COLAs”

“Bergeson says Gregoire budget a step in the right direction for K-12”

“Proposed budget wrong direction for long-term care”

What’s that clip-clop noise?

It used to be commonplace, but it’s been a while since anyone rode up to the state Capitol on horseback.

Gene Glasscock – a 70-year-old “long rider” who has made it his goal to visit all state capitols in the Lower 48 – arrived last week. He was astride a once-wild Bureau of Land Management horse, one of two in his four-horse train.

He was greeted in front of a World War I monument by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who doffed his jacket and climbed up for a moment to savor the view from horseback.

Glasscock is on the third year of his trip. Olympia was his 38th state capital. He’s now somewhere near Yakima, headed toward Pullman, en route to Helena, where he hopes to make the Montana capitol his 39th.

“Even if I have to ride a little slower, I want older people to look at me and realize they don’t have to just sit on the porch and do nothing,” he said when he started his trip in Denver in September 2002. “I’m proof positive that they can mount up, ride out and still live life.”

For a map of his travels, updates from the road or if you can offer him a place to stay along the way, go to www.geneglasscock.org.

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