Initiative 1634 to keep local government from taxing groceries looks to have passed

Whitman County votes 55 percent in favor of initiative

ANGELICA RELENTE, Evergreen editor-in-chief

Initiative 1634, which would prohibit local governments from imposing any new or increased taxes on grocery items, looks to have passed as of Tuesday’s election results.

As of Tuesday night’s statewide tabulation, nearly 55 percent of votes were in favor of the measure. In Whitman County, 56.5 percent were in favor of it.

Grocery items are defined as “any raw or processed food or beverage, or any ingredient thereof, intended for human consumption,” according to the House Office of Program Research report.

Joshua Munroe, a political science doctoral candidate and the GPSA vice president of legislative affairs, said the wording of the initiative is general and can be confusing.

“The basic nature of the initiative is it’s asking you to vote ‘yes’ on a ‘no,’ ” Munroe said.

Although local governments have the ability to raise taxes on grocery food items, it is uncommon to raise taxes on items people consume regularly, he said. In Washington, the only time a local government imposed taxes on its city is Seattle’s soda tax.

Munroe said it can be difficult to discuss the initiative without considering the groups who propose and oppose it. Four major corporations who support and fund the initiative include Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dr Pepper and Red Bull.

“Just by looking at the donors,” he said, “you can kind of see the angle that the ‘yes on 1634’ people are coming from.”

Munroe said the major corporations do not want new taxes imposed on their items because it would affect their profits.

On the other hand, those who oppose the initiative are groups in the medical profession, Munroe said. They advocate for healthier food options and do not want unhealthy items to become cheaper for consumers to purchase.

Munroe said some small grocery stores might support the initiative because consumers might be less inclined to buy items that are taxed, which would then cut into the businesses’ profits.

“It makes sense for them and their livelihood to say they don’t want to see new taxes imposed on those things,” he said.

Businesses that are less likely to be impacted by the initiative would be other small businesses like coffee shops and cafes because they specialize in certain food items only, Munroe said.

“People are going to give them business anyway because they are very niche,” he said.

Munroe said this initiative is significant at the university because having food security can be an issue for WSU students. It may affect programs like Cougs Feeding Cougs, which provides funds for eligible students in need.

“People have to really stretch their dollar and make it count,” he said. “Not a lot of people are just able to pay for college out of pocket.”