Parks and Wrecks: Seattle Mayor Wants to Tax Soda for Park Funding

Yesterday, we featured a post about gas taxes and tolls, which do a good job linking levies with road usage. But sometimes politicians misrepresent “benefits” taxes as a way to sell poor tax policy. A recent example of this is the soda tax that has been proposed by Seattle’s Mayor Mike McGinn. The mayor suggests that a tax be implemented in the city on soft drinks at a rate of 1 cent per ounce, with the funds directed to maintenance on city parks. According to McGinn, “it's worth looking at because of what it could finance and because it does impact a public health issue as well.”

Beside the point that research shows that soda taxes have insignificant effects on obesity outcomes, they distort consumer choice, and may just get people to drink more beer, the attempt to link parks and soda is poor tax policy logic. The wear or use on a park is hardly linked with soda consumption—if they were trying to link park maintenance use with levies they’d be better off taxing dog purchases.

Further, if parks funding is important, citizens should be willing to pay for it with real, broad-based taxes like sales or property taxes. Instead, taxes on soda invite the complexities of new collection mechanism and exclusions for certain products that contribute to caloric intake but are for one reason or another sympathetic to voters and policymakers. The Parks Legacy Citizens Advisory Committee at their October 3 meeting has expressed the desire to have the tax include not only soda but also sports drinks and “juice with added caloric sweeteners,” while excluding natural juice (with no caloric sweeteners), milk based drinks, and alcoholic beverages (see page 8 & attachment B).

Read more on past soda tax attempts.

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