Last Friday Mayor Jenny Durkan vetoed the ordinance setting new restrictions on how Sweetened Beverage Tax revenues can be spent. Vetoes are incredibly rare in Seattle City Hall, so that sent everyone (including me) scrambling to the City Charter to see what happens next. Yes, we all know in theory how it works, but the details matter.
This afternoon the City Council passed, each by a 7-1 vote, a pair of bills that set up separate funds into which the Sweetened Beverage Tax and Short-term Rental Tax revenues must be deposited, along with stricter rules for how the revenues may be spent — despite a threat from Mayor Durkan to veto the bills.
In their second major rift this week, today the City Council and Mayor Durkan fired accusations at each other over how to handle revenues from the Sweetened Beverage Tax (aka the “soda tax”) and the Short-term Rental Tax (aka the “AirBnB tax”).
This past Wednesday, the City Council met in committee to discuss the Sweetened Beverage Tax passed two years ago. At issue is how the revenues generated from the tax should be spent.
To their credit, city officials are at least being honest about the mess they’ve created.
In June of 2017 the City Council passed a sales tax on sweetened beverages, to take effect on January 1, 2018. Now, with some initial data in hand, the Mayor and City Council are deciding how to spend the tax revenues over the next two years. But things haven’t turned out the way the experts predicted, raising questions about whether the “soda tax” was such a good idea in the first place. It equally raises questions about the motives of the city officials charting the tax’s future.
This afternoon’s vote on the soda tax, and the withdrawal of one of the two proposals to renovate Key Arena, top this morning’s news.
This afternoon, Council member Tim Burgess finally responded to my week’s worth of inquiries and explained why the proposed legislation creating a tax on distribution of sweetened beverages is being rushed through the legislative process despite obvious differences of opinion among Council members, the Mayor, community members, and business and labor leaders on major aspects of the legislation and indeed whether the tax should even be levied.
It turns out Burgess’s explanation makes some sense, even if it may not fully justify the final sprint to the finish line.
The soda tax legislation made it out of committee yesterday and is headed for a final approval vote on Monday. But in the absence of a clear consensus on the goals of the bill, it took a loose federation of Council members with overlapping interests, some earmarked spending, and a fair amount of holding their noses to get it passed through today. And Council member Tim Burgess is still rushing it through without a clear explanation of why that is necessary.
Here are my collected notes on the highlights from today’s Council Briefing and Full Council meetings.
This Wednesday, the Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods and Finance Committee will attempt to construct and vote on an ordinance levying an excise tax on sweetened beverages, with the intent of voting it into law next Monday.
So far, the City Council has had three committee hearings on the topic. The only thing that’s clear is that there is little consensus on pretty much any of the core issues.