I-1107 Could Imperil Efforts To Maintain Public and Environmental Health
Initiative 1107 would repeal several common taxes on nonessential items like candy, soda, and bottled water. Eliminating these essential sources of revenue could jeopardize efforts to maintain and improve public and environmental health, however.
There are significant social costs associated with the growing consumption of candy, soda, and bottled water. Soda and candy have been linked to the rising obesity epidemic in the United States.1 The production of bottled water significantly contributes to global warming while discarded bottles clog streams, rivers, and other natural habitats.2
One of the benefits of taxing unhealthy or environmentally damaging products is that the taxes encourage consumers to make healthier long-term purchasing decisions. In King County, consumption of candy and bottled water could slow by as much as nine percent in the coming years, due to the extension of the sales tax to these products. Purchases of soda, which was subjected to a smaller tax increase, are likely to slow by a smaller degree.3
Revenues from the taxes targeted by I-1107 are deposited into the state’s general fund, which is used to support numerous important programs, including those designed to improve public and environmental health. For example:
- Under the 5930 Program (named after Senate Bill 5930 enacted in 2007) the Department of Health receives about $20 million per biennium in order to develop and implement strategies to reduce obesity and other chronic diseases, increase vaccinations, prevent the spread of communicable diseases like E. coli or Salmonella, and improve public health via other initiatives.4
- The Department of Ecology’s (DOE) Air Quality Program protects public and environmental health by monitoring air quality and regulating pollutants from motor vehicles, manufacturers, agriculture, and other sectors of the economy. Fifty-nine percent (about $19 million this biennium) of the funding for this program comes from the general fund.5
- Fully 83 percent ($32 million this biennium) of the funding for DOE’s Water Quality Program — which is responsible for preventing and cleaning up water pollution — is provided through state general fund. This program also ensures that the public has access to accurate information about water quality in Washington State.6
All of these programs are vulnerable to being severely cut or eliminated in the coming biennium. Initiative 1107 would further impede the state’s ability to address public and environmental health problems.
For more information on I-1107, read the Budget & Policy Center’s latest policy brief, “2010 Initiatives Could Impact Public Services.”
1. The New England Journal of Medicine, “The Public Health and Economic Benefits of Taxing Sugar-Based Beverages,” September 11, 2009.
2. Eric Sorensen, “Seven Wonders for a Cool Planet: Everyday Things to Help Solve Global Warming,” The Sightline Institute.
3. In King County, the combined state and local sales tax rate is 9.5 percent. The Department of Revenue estimates the price-elasticity of demand for candy, soda, and bottled water to be 0.9, https://fortress.wa.gov/binaryDisplay.aspx?package=27107
4. The Washington State Department of Health, the 5930 program, description available on-line at http://www.doh.wa.gov/PHIP/products/5930/overview.htm.
5. Washington State Department of Ecology, Air Quality Program, description available on-line at: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/air.html.
6. Washington State Department of Ecology, Water Quality Program, description available on-line at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/water.html.