Signature gathering has begun for a statewide initiative to bar cities and counties from imposing taxes on sweetened beverages and other food and drinks typically sold in supermarkets. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Signature gathering has begun for a statewide initiative to bar cities and counties from imposing taxes on sweetened beverages and other food and drinks typically sold in supermarkets. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Initiative would bar governments from enacting soda taxes

It would also prohibit local taxes on other food and drinks typically sold in supermarkets.

OLYMPIA — Signature gathering began this week for a proposed statewide initiative to bar cities and counties from imposing their own taxes on sweetened beverages as well as other food and drinks typically sold in supermarkets.

Under Initiative 1634, local governments could not enact a soda tax similar to what exists in Seattle but the state is not prohibited from doing so. And while the proposed measure does not undo Seattle’s regulation, it contains a provision to prevent the city from increasing or expanding the tax.

Alcoholic beverages, tobacco and marijuana products, which are regulated and taxed by the state, are excluded from the measure.

“It’s already hard enough for stores, shops and restaurants to make payroll, but if you add taxes on essentials like food and everyday beverages, sales will suffer and jobs will be lost,” said A.J. Handa, an Everett convenience store owner, in a statement issued by initiative backers.

To qualify for the ballot, supporters need to turn in signatures of at least 259,622 registered voters by July 6. The Secretary of State’s Office recommends submitting at least 325,000 signatures to allow for duplicate and invalid signatures.

The American Beverage Association is pushing the measure. Contributions from the Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc., Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. and Red Bull North America Inc. totalled $25,000 as of Wednesday, according to records posted online by the Public Disclosure Commission.

Much more will be coming in soon. Yes! to Affordable Groceries, the political committee conducting the campaign, has amassed $567,000 in bills for campaign consultants, lawyers, polling and prepping for the signature drive.

Its message will be spread by Handa and others in a coalition that includes the Joint Council of Teamsters No. 28, which represents beverage industry workers, the Washington Food Industry Association and the Korean-American Grocer’s Association of Washington.

As of Wednesday, no formal opposition committee had registered with the state.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

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