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Seattle’s Sweetened Beverage Tax producing healthier than expected returns

A tax on sugary drinks sold in Seattle has produced more money than expected — and the missing Capitol Hill mystery pop machine had nothing to do with it. Now City Hall is sorting out how best to put the healthy revenue from unhealthy — without moderation! — beverages back into the community.

Friday, members of the Seattle City Council met with the Community Advisory Board of the Sweetened Beverage Tax to discuss why the tax exceeded revenue projections, what to do with the extra money, and to make recommendations for how to use the money in the 2018 and 2019 budgets.

“Communities of color and low-income people face the greatest disparities in terms of health and education outcome,” Christina Wong, co-chair of the board tells CHS.

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“I really valued both the intention behind the creation of the CAB and the commitment that our board has made to representing the communities that are most impacted by these issues. To help improve health outcomes for people through education about sugary beverages. To provide more equitable investments in programs and services that will help reduce food insecurity and also help with kindergarten readiness. To help educate the public about the work that the tax has been doing, the kind of investment that have been made, and the really great programs that have been made or even expanded because of the tax.”

The Sweetened Beverage Tax, or SBT—sometimes called the “soda tax”—began the first day of this year and imposed a tax rate of 1.75 cents per ounce on all sugar-sweetened beverage products sold in Seattle. The purpose of the tax is to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks — which research shows can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes, weight gain and tooth decay — and use the tax revenue to improve access to healthier food options and provide funding for programs designed to reduce educational disparities in communities of color. The tax was imposed on distributors who could choose whether they wanted to pass on the cost to the retailers, who might then pass it on to consumers.

The original forecast for annual revenue from the tax was $14,820,000, but the city collected more than $10 million in the first six months. The Community Advisory Board said the tax will likely continue to generate more revenue than originally projected.

“The City Budget Office is taking a close look and revise those projections,” said Bridget Igoe, staff advisor to the SBT CAB in the city’s Office of Sustainability and Environment. “In general, it can be pretty difficult to create a forecast for the Sweetened Beverage Tax. The forecast that was created was based on experience in Philadelphia and Berkley.”

“I guess it was a conservative estimate,” Igoe said.

Proponents say they aren’t as surprised as City Hall. The projected estimates, though higher than estimated are in line with what other cities have seen, Wong tells CHS.

In a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan sent on August 21, the Community Advisory Board presented its unanimous position that “all beverage tax revenues — including any additional funds generated in 2018 and 2019 that exceed projections — should be spent in accordance with the beverage tax ordinance, the intent of the ordinance, and the recommendations put forth by the CAB.”

The 11-member board wants to invest the money in the following areas: healthy food and beverage access, birth-to-three services and kindergarten readiness, a public awareness campaign about sugary drinks, support for people actively living with obesity and diabetes, community-based programs to support good nutrition and physical activity and evaluation support for those programs.

Meanwhile, Friday also brought a discussion with the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Office of Sustainability and Environment on how to implement a transportation voucher pilot program, to provide low-income residents living in so-called “food deserts” with vouchers to use public transportation — or possibly private ride share companies — to shop for food in more robustly resourced neighborhoods.


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8 thoughts on “Seattle’s Sweetened Beverage Tax producing healthier than expected returns

  1. What does “support for people actively living with obesity and diabetes” mean exactly? I’m a City employee and work with more obese and diabetic people than I’ve ever worked with in my 40 years in the work force. These people spend hours in their cars each day because they can’t afford homes in the city. They get a 30 minute lunch break so very little time to go exercise. Yet we can’t get any work out facilities in our workplace even if we use unpaid time to exercise and pay for the equipment ourselves. The closest we’ve gotten is a tiny former storage room w/no windows in the basement of our building that houses 10 stories of employees. No more than 2 people could possibly fit in it at once with the exercise bike and weight machine currently taking up almost the entire tiny room. It would be great if the City as an employer addressed helping their employees who live with obesity and Diabetes vs. creating a workplace that encourages development of both. Just a suggestion!

  2. The tax wasn’t meant to raise money–it was meant to deter people from drinking sugary drinks.

    So not only does it disproportionately affect low-income populations–it isn’t even effective.

    • It seems it would be pretty effective in those low-income populations, no? If pop costs 20 cents more per can one is less likely to drink it. I just don’t understand why sugary coffee drinks were excluded.

  3. Sorry, but I find this article and everything I have heard to date on KUOW (NPR-Seattle) and too many of the other news fabrication stations in Seattle and King County to be highly specious: no mention of the wide range of fruit juices which are taxed under the SBT!

    Holy cuh-rap! Of course it is bringing in tremendous revenues if you purchase fruit juices frequently as I do you know this is no effing mystery!

  4. (Funny, no mention of fruit juices being taxed by the non-reporter reporter, Lisa Brooks!)

    Seattle Bizarro

    Why is there a real news blackout on the Seattle Sweetened Beverage Tax (SBT)?

    When the Seattle Times, KUOW (NPR-Seattle), KEXP (University of Washington radio station), KIRO, et al., report on Seattle’s local regressive tax (SBT) they always claim or infer that it only applies to soda pop or soft drinks — always neglecting to mention the wide range of fruit juices which are being taxed?

    Which is exactly why the revenue stream from this tax is so great!

    Why are they refusing to report on this — are they following a directive from the Community Development Roundtable (the local super-rich)? Or Nick Haneuer, the unelected billionaire advisor to Mayor Jenny Durkan?

    And how is it they all report in such a uniform and monolithic manner?

    This isn’t supposed to be China or Russia or Myanmar, is it?

    What’s going on in Seattle?????

    The same pattern applies to that bloody interstate compact signed by two former governors, Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke which brought three out of four ex-convicts to the Puget Sound region, where a number of them would once again murder, rape, assault and rob!

    Like that lady teacher in Redmond who was beaten to death by a member of that group — or those four police officers shot to death in Lacey, WA., some years back.

    Information is difficult to find on exactly how many crimes are tied to that interstate compact and those ex-convicts, but the last report I read mentioned over five hundred (> 500) outstanding arrest warrants for them!

    A state-level, or local study should have long ago been undertaken to ascertain the victims resulting from that interstate compact signed by Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke — or have the politicians refused because the state is both legally and financially culpable to the victims — the state did pay out to the families of those four slain police officers — but what about that lady teacher in Redmond and any and all of the other victims?

    Too many real news stories in Seattle and King County go unreported and appear to be deemed off-limits from on high — especially when the involve public safety!

    So no reportage on fruit juices being taxed by the SBT thereby not interfering with its tremendous revenue stream and little to no reportage on the victims of that interstate compact on adult offenders and subsequently no state payouts?

    Perhaps it always comes down to the money . . . .

    The Sweetened Beverage Tax is supposed to go to financing a local government program to teach healthier eating and drinking habits: so they are taxing my fruit juices, including Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice (and all the others) in order to teach my to drink healthy fruit juices?!

    Seriously bizarre . . . .

  5. It only taxes soda pop.” — John Curley, KIRO — erroneously referring to Seattle’s Sweetened Beverage Tax (SBT)

    It only taxes soda pop.” All the so-called “reporters” at the Seattle Times

    It only taxes soda pop.” KUOW (NPR-Seattle) both on the air and in their individual blogs or articles

    It only taxes soda pop.” KEXP (owned by the University of Washington)

    It only taxes soda pop.” KING, KOMO, etc., etc.

    How can it be that EVERYONE at all the major news outlets are reading from the same exact script?????

    I do not drink soda pop, yet I, like many others in Seattle, pay a small fortune month-in and month-out on the beverage tax?!


    Because we frequently drunk fruit juices, and a wide range of fruit juices are taxed under the SBT (all Ocean Spray, Langers and others are taxed).

    Yet I have just quoted (and have read ALL their articles in print) the fake newsies, or should I say the conservative fake newsies, the general fake newsies, the liberal fake newsies and the progressive fake newsies cite the same exact script!?

    Oh, I see, they are all following the directives of the Community Development Roundtable — I wonder if this is the way it works in ALL major US cities?

    I suspect it does . . . .

  6. This is garbage, Meat, eggs and dairy are far more harmful than sugar but are not taxed at all. Animal agriculture is the top contributor to global warming why aren’t we taxing that instead. This is a regressive tax and It’s offensive that only the poor have to do with this condescending and abusive nanny state BS. We can’t tax Bezos so people can have homes but we can tax the homeless for sugar because they are naughty and can’t think for themselves. I’m disgusted, the author and all the sugar consumption police need to get over themselves. Tried to buy 3 dollars worth of Gatorade today because I’m sick and am having trouble eating, the sugar would give me the calories I need to not feel malnurished, well guess what $1.12 cents tax on $3, and why!~?!?!? cause I am a bad person for needing Gatorade? am I unhealthy for this and need to be punished. Regressive taxes are BS and should not be taken seriously, it’s always the poor that pay the taxes.

    Tax Bezos not the poor!!!!!! He can live in a micro-studio, allow him enough to survive off of as long as he works in the warehouse.