Election Day in 2018, Washington voters passed
an ordinance to curb local governments’ efforts to pass additional
taxes on grocery items, including meats, beverages, produce, dairy, grains, and
55-45 percent vote was no doubt a win for the consumers, but so far reaction to
the local tax ban has been negative. Why?
media coverage focused on the soda industry’s support of the
measure, no surprise there. But considering most news media reported this and
voters supported it anyway, what does that mean about the initiative itself?
this was primarily a ballot question on funding and taxation, not on a
particular public policy. Voters are usually cautious in supporting new taxes,
and are more likely to support proposals that would ban certain taxes.
disparity that occurs in food prices between city and county jurisdictions are
high enough to give plenty of people a headache.
on the county
and city you live in, Washingtonians must pay between 7 and 10.4
percent in sales tax, including the state sales tax of 6.5 percent.
to the Tax
Foundation, Washington has the 4th highest combined sales
taxes in the country, averaging out at 9.18 percent.
the average family, that means nearly a tenth of every grocery bill must be
paid in taxes. Not to mention property taxes, federal income taxes, fees, and
more. The list is endless. If asked whether they should be increased, it’s
hardly surprising voters decided against it.
argument can be made that autonomy to tax is being taken away from local
jurisdictions, but a discriminatory tax regime across county or city lines
won’t do anything to help consumers.
we have seen in places such as Philadelphia or Chicago, consumers are more
likely to travel across those lines to buy what they want at a bargain. One
analysis found that while sales on sugary drinks fells in
Philadelphia after the soda tax was passed, sales on those same beverages jumped
38 percent at stores outside jurisdictions.
the name of pursuing health policy, why should we force residents to travel
across city or county boundaries to buy their groceries?
everyone agrees with this sentiment, of course.
neighboring Oregon, former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael
Bloomberg dropped $1.5
million into the campaign to strike down a similar local tax ban.
That effort ultimately didn’t pass, meaning cities and counties will be free to
pass their own grocery taxes at will.
Washingtonians on the north bank of the Columbia River, buying groceries in
Oregon is almost a sacred ritual, owing to its 0 percent sales tax. Now,
emboldened by the ability to pass local taxes and encouraged by health
crusaders like Mr. Bloomberg, cities and counties may look to raise additional
such, Washington residents should be both proud and relieved. They won’t be
seeing their grocery bills climbing any time soon, and that’s because they
voted with their wallets on Election Day. They should be praised rather than
Yaël Ossowski is a
journalist, consumer advocate, and deputy director at the Consumer Choice
Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.