It didn't get much attention during the legislative session, except when the occasional Republican derided it as a "Spam tax."
But a $4.8 million change to how taxes are calculated for food-processing businesses is one of a handful of taxes that voters could have the chance to overturn in November.
Shoppers in Olympia and around the state are being asked to sign petitions for Initiative 1107. It would repeal the food-processing change, along with bigger and more controversial taxes on soda pop, candy, gum and bottled water.
The measure has been bankrolled so far by the trade group for soft drink companies and their bottlers. But the bottlers’ pitch has been as much about food as their own products.
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The rallying cry is “Stop the tax hikes on food and beverages.” They trumpet it on their petition forms, in a letter they mailed to voters and on the website they put up Tuesday at stopgrocerytaxes.com.
The “food” part is candy and the products of the food processors, but opponents of I-1107 say it misleads voters into thinking they’re rolling back a sales tax on food they’re used to buying tax-free.
“They’re essentially lying to the public about what Initiative 1107 is really about,” said Sandeep Kaushik, spokesman for a coalition that argued in favor of tax increases to avoid deeper budget cuts and has organized a “decline to sign” campaign against the rollback attempt.
Robert Gara, spokesman for the bottlers and their initiative campaign, said it’s simple: Certain Washington food companies will see their taxes go up. That’s a tax on food, he says, and it could pave the way for more.
Bottlers and professional signature gatherers hit the streets June 11, the day after a judge approved ballot language.
At opponents’ request, the judge moved a reference to food-processor taxes from the beginning of the ballot language to the end. Opponents argued the tax change was just a fraction of the $100 million in annual taxes the initiative would repeal and shouldn’t be given prominence.
The approval gave the bottlers just three weeks to collect 241,153 valid signatures before the July 2 deadline. That would probably be the fastest anyone has done it, the Secretary of State’s Office said.
But the industry has deep pockets. The American Beverage Association has contributed $1.3 million.
Opponents of that initiative and I-1053, which would reinstate supermajority requirements for tax increases to pass the Legislature, have raised $44,000, mostly from unions. They are asking people to call or e-mail them when they see signature gatherers.
Bottlers have sent out petitions by mail with a letter criticizing the taxes for being arbitrary – taxing Snickers but not Twix, for example. The forms are already coming back signed, Gara said.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 firstname.lastname@example.org; blog.thenewstribune.com/politics