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Seattle approves tax on soda, energy drinks, other sugary beverages

The Seattle City Council on Monday approved a new tax on soda and other sugary beverages as way to raise millions for healthy food and education programs.

The ordinance calls for a tax of 1.75 cents per ounce to be paid by distributors of beverages such as Pepsi and Coke, sports drinks, energy drinks and other sweetened drinks. The tax excludes diet drinks.

Supporters such as public health advocates and community groups cheered after the measure passed on a 7-1 vote. They say it would cut down on the consumption of sugary drinks that have little nutritional value and are linked to obesity, diabetes and other health problems.

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Businesses and labor groups spoke out against the tax, saying it would hurt small businesses and cost jobs. Other critics called it regressive, saying it would affect low-income consumers the most.

Seattle joins a handful of other cities nationwide that have a soda tax. Last month, voters in Santa Fe, New Mexico, resoundingly rejected a soda tax proposal, but Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Oakland, California, have approved taxes on sugary beverages.

Councilman Tim Burgess, who sponsored Seattle's measure, said there's incontrovertible evidence that sugary drinks have negative health outcomes and that people of color are disproportionately targeted. "Liquid sugar has zero nutritional benefits," he said.

Mayor Ed Murray proposed the idea in February to raise millions for programs that promote access to healthy food and help address education disparities between white and minority students.

Jennifer Cue, president of Seattle-based Jones Soda, said the company believes in the intention of the funds. But Cue said it wasn't fair to target one industry.

Keep Seattle Livable for All, a coalition of businesses, said in a statement Monday that "this job-killing tax that will drive up costs and further increase income inequality in Seattle."

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Some of the money raised by the tax would also go to job retraining and placement programs for workers adversely impacted by the tax.

Community groups backed the measure because it would direct money to programs aimed at helping working families that can't afford healthy foods.

Some people spoke in favor of the tax but recommended that the council consider including diet drinks as a matter of fairness. The mayor revised his initial plan to include diet sodas after a racial-equity analysis showed they tend to be favored by wealthy people and white people.

Still, Tammy Nguyen, an organizer with the community group Got Green, said, "This is a significant a victory by and for working families throughout Seattle because the new law puts closing the food security gap as the number one investment priority for the tax revenue."

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