Skip to comments.Seattle Voters Says "HELL NO!" To Expresso Tax
Posted on 09/17/2003 9:24:59 PM PDT by webber
By Tim Eyman, WA State Anti-Tax Guru
I'm shocked but pleased to announce that Seattle voters finally found a tax they not only disliked, but viscerally hated: the latte tax. It went down in flames tonight with 68% of Seattle voters, that's right SEATTLE VOTERS, not saying "no" but "HELL NO!"
This is clearly a turning point on taxes in Washington state. We've always had non-Seattle voters on board our efforts toward more tax sanity. But now it looks as if voters in Seattle have seen the light.
Better late than never.
After all, we have one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation, we're the only state to tax gross revenue on businesses, we have a crushing property tax burden, we have one of the largest gas taxes in the nation, and we have hundreds of nickel and dime taxes and fees on virtually every item or service offered by state and local government. Add it all up and Washington is now the 6th highest taxed state in the nation (www.taxfoundation.org).
So along comes a "paltry" 10-cent-per-latte tax accompanied by the usual mantra about "being for the kids." Where is it proposed?
We-love-all-taxes-Seattle. The result? A crushing 2-1 rejection.
68% of Alabama voters rejected a huge $1.2 billion tax increase last Tuesday and now 68% of Seattle voters rejected a tiny 10 cent latte tax today.
The public has sent an undeniable and unambiguous message to politicians far and wide: our tax burden is crushing us, we need a lower tax burden, especially during these tough economic times.
By ELAINE PORTERFIELD AND MATTHEW CRAFT, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTERS
In a city where the words double tall, skinny and splitshot are uttered just as often as please and thank you, the thought of paying a 10-cent tax on espresso was going over as well as an iced mocha on a cold winter morning.
Early returns showed voters in this coffee-crazed city rejecting Initiative 77, which had become known as the latte tax, by a 2-1 ratio.
But John Burbank, who heads the institute that sponsored the measure, said it was too early to tell how the initiative would fare.
Earlier in the day, as he went door to door talking to voters, many seemed to be in favor of the tax, he said.
Across the city, though, the ballot measure left voters facing a difficult proposition: Should latte drinkers pay an extra dime a cup to pay for child care and preschool programs?
One voter, David Busby, entered the voting booth Tuesday morning and left without casting a vote one way or the other.
It was just too hard to decide, he said.
"I can afford 10 cents on a cup of coffee -- that's just 20 cents a day for me," he said. "It's the wrong solution, but the right problem to tackle." Around the country, and the world, the idea of the tax evolved into one of those only-in-Seattle stories. It was written about in USA Today and The New York Times; it was talked about on NPR, CBS and the BBC.
Kate Gill, an outspoken critic of the measure and the owner of Lottie Motts, a coffee shop in Columbia City, was among those swept up by the media attention.
Tuesday afternoon, she was preparing to welcome yet another crew into her shop -- this time, they were from Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."
At Lottie Motts, two "Vote no on I-77" posters decorate the windows; two more "vote no" posters hang behind the counter.
"If anyone voted for I-77," Gill said, "nobody would come in here and admit it to me."
Last week, though, on separate occasions, three I-77 supporters dropped in to complain about the signs outside.
"One time it was when a crew from CNN was here," Gill said.
She said she supports helping those less fortunate than herself: Inside her store, in a corner across from the counter, customers will find a 3-foot-tall barrel for food donations. But Gill thinks the tax would have hurt small coffee vendors already suffering in a weak economy.
Larger coffee chains sell espresso machines, coffee cups and other items.
"I just sell coffee," she said, explaining that for each drink sold, she pockets between a nickel and a quarter -- at best.
"It's not Starbucks versus the kids," she said. "This is a nickel business."
The tax, formally known as the Early Learning and Care Campaign, was aimed at raising money for preschool programs and continuing education for teachers.
For Seattle coffee drinkers, it would have meant an extra 10 cents on any cappuccino, latte, iced drink or Americano sold at a cafe, restaurant or coffee stand.
Exactly how much money the tax would have raised was a matter of debate.
Supporters said it would have brought in about $7 million a year; opponents said it would have generated far less, $1.5 million.
Early on, the measure was criticized by opponents, many from the coffee and restaurant industry. They labeled it as an unfair and regressive tax on their product.
Why not tax hot dogs, pizza or ice cream? they asked.
Many owners of small espresso stands and coffee shops said they, too, realized the importance of child care, but they said the tax was whimsical and arbitrary.
It had no relationship to the programs it would pay for, they said. And it would have hit smaller businesses particularly hard.
The tax would not have been levied on businesses with less than $50,000 a year in sales.
Supporters said the money was desperately needed to ensure children are prepared and ready to learn when they walk through the doors of kindergarten.
Half of those children are unprepared for the challenges of kindergarten, proponents said. And this would have given them a chance to catch up.
By far, the biggest contributor against the tax was the Starbucks Coffee Co. which put $49,500 toward defeating the measure.
The Chamber of Commerce kicked in $17,554, and GoTech contributed more than $7,000.
Proponents, including the Economic Opportunity Institute at $51,000, put a total of almost $138,000 into passing the measure.
Other major contributors included Pat G. Close of the restaurant Café Flora, which contributed $8,500. The Seattle Education Association contributed more than $8,000.
The idea of the latte tax, though, raised guffaws around the country. In Philadelphia, cheese steak lovers said placing a tax on a particular food or drink sounded discriminatory.
Over in Baltimore, makers of the city's famous crab cakes said it was nuts to take a city's most famous treat and tax it. Instead, they urged Seattle to promote its coffee.
Tuesday afternoon, sitting outside a Tully's in Pioneer Square -- across from Zeitgeist Cafe and one block from a Starbucks -- Joe Iannarone seemed to epitomize many of Seattle's voters.
Between drags from a cigarette, he called the initiative "ridiculous" and cited it as another example of how this city is becoming what he called the "People's Republic of Seattle."
Why single out one product, he asked. "Why not hamburgers and tootsie rolls?"
In case you had any doubt, Iannarone voted against the measure.
His main objection, he said, was using a tax to help take care of children whose parents can't afford them.
"If people can't take care of their children they should be more careful," he said.
"I don't think taxation is a way to right social inequities."
I heard this guy on the radio news today. Well, at least he didn't vote. Yeah, "It's only 10 cents, I can afford it." The problem with that, David, is that it's ALWAYS MORE, just a little bit MORE. Then, next year, just a little bit MORE. And the year after that, just a little bit MORE. Anyone who votes for a tax increase is out of their mind. Force the bloodsuckers to be more efficient with what they've got, then tell them, "We want it to be LESS, just a little bit LESS."
This is a good sign, though, that in such a liberal town, they said NO. Even here in Tucson, a town that voted for Raoul Karl Marx LaRaza Grijalva as scum-bucket US Representative, the voters have said NO to idiot boondoggle tax increases the past few years.
One of the things that frustrated me about the opposition was talking point put out by Starbucks that "child education is too important to depend on one source of revenue."Yeah, just look at what the organized opposition said in the voter's guide:
When you go down on your knees to grovel that you shouldn't be taxed at least make a reasonable argument. Are people going to stop drinking coffee in Seattle? Commuting over the 520 bridge will be a breeze before that ever happens.
There's a better way to fund chidcare programs: The Families and Education Levy, created by citizens and approved twice by Seattle voters in the last 13 years, already provides funding for several childcare programs. This levy is up for renewal next year - and provides a better approach and more equitable funding source than this new, unreliable specialty tax. Let's continue to support Seattle's children through this popular, already established program.I suspect that next year there will be great pressure applied to add the $7 million onto the Families & Education Levy renewal. So the taxers may have the last laugh yet.
Don't give them ideas!!!