In fact, I live in the Olympia, Washington’s Capitol.
I have heard anger/frustration/disappointment from many of my friends about the sales tax on candy and gum and bottled water, and the added tax on soda, being repealed by “the voters” in Fall 2010.*
As a result of this and other initiatives being passed, even the most progressive legislators are not able or willing to fight to raise taxes, even as essential, life-preserving programs are being cut.
My contention is that many of those who voted “no” really didn’t understand what was at stake.
Some of the programs that I don’t consider “fluff” that are proposed to be cut — that would have been able to remain intact — include:
- Reducing state-funded preschool services to 3-year-olds. (This is currently available to children with identified dis-abilities or from very low-income families, not all children in Washington)
- Eliminate the Career and Wage Ladder Pilot Program, which creates incentives for child care teachers to advance their education and professional development.
- Eliminate K-4 class size reduction funds provided to school districts above the state’s basic education allocations for teachers. Funding is sufficient to reduce class size by 1.8 students per teacher above the state’s basic education allocation.
- Suspend the Student Achievement Program under Initiative 728, which provides smaller class sizes, extended learning time for students and professional development for teachers.
- Suspend the planned increase of capacity in all-day kindergarten that would have served thousands more students. Schools will continue to provide full-day kindergarten on a parent-pay basis.
- Eliminate the Basic Health Plan. The state will no longer offer subsidized health insurance to 66,000 individuals through the Basic Health program.
- Eliminate the Disability Lifeline grant for the temporarily unemployable. The grant will continue at a reduced level of $258 per month for individuals with pending applications for Federal Supplemental Security Income and individuals on the aged, blind or disabled program. This program serves 28,000 individuals each month.
- Eliminate the Disability Lifeline Medical Program, which serves 21,000 clients each year who have a temporary disability and are unable to work.
- Eliminate the State Food Assistance Program, but provide funding in the Department of Agriculture budget to purchase commodities for food banks.
- Eliminate the Medicare Part D co-payment subsidy. The state will no longer reimburse qualifying Medicaid clients for co-payments related to Medicare Part D drug purchases.
- Eliminate school-based medical service reimbursements. Washington school districts will no longer be reimbursed for medical services to Medicaid-eligible children required as part of their individual educational plan.
- Eliminate medical interpreter services, which subsidize the cost of interpreter services to assist medical providers in communicating with Medicaid clients.
- Eliminate state funding for family planning grants. The Department of Health will direct federal grants to rural areas to maintain geographically accessible, cost-effective family planning services.
- Reduce in-home Medicaid personal care hours to 45,000 individuals. An average-hour reduction of 10 percent will be based on the acuity of the client. Clients will see their hours reduced by 4 to 22 hours each month for assistance with bathing, medication management, dressing and other activities.
- Reduce optional Medicaid services. Services for non-emergency dental and maternity care to high-risk mothers and children will be reduced.
- Reduce funding for 26,000 clients of community mental health services delivered through the regional support networks. Services include crisis response, evaluation and treatment.
- Reduce residential and outpatient chemical dependency services for 2,800 clients.
- Reduce grants by 50 percent to community health clinics awarded through the Health Care Authority for services to low-income clients.
- Reduce local public health funding by 11 percent. Services affected include responding to food-borne illnesses and epidemics, and home visitations by public health nurses.
- Reduce parole services provided to juvenile offenders by the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration in the Department of Social and Health Services by 20 percent.
- Reduce funding to juvenile courts that provide evidence-based programming and disposition alternatives to juvenile offenders.
So, here’s my proposal:
If you live in Washington State, send letters to your representatives and governor letting them know we want the tax back. This isn’t going to be an easy sell, since every county except for King County voted yes on Initiative 1107.
In general, letters carry a good deal of weight. Putting some spare change in the letters (the amount of tax per candy bar was about $0.07 and on a can of soda was $0.02 — a dime would cover it) will make them “carry more weight.” And it will be a bit of a pain for them to manage the money. Maybe we could even deliver a piggy bank to the Capitol as a publicity stunt.
If legislators tend to think that each letter represents 10 or more voters, and there were about 152,000 voters more who voted yes and those who voted no on I 1107 in Washington, then if we could send over 15,000 letters, that would send a really big message. I know that’s a huge number, but if each of us sent messages to all of our friends in Washington State, (I’m going to post this on Facebook), that might be possible. (If you don’t live in Washington State but like this approach, feel free to use it in your own state).
I’m not expecting this will work to repeal the tax, but I’m thinking it will convey the message that cheap soda, candy and gum aren’t more important than health care, education, dental care, and more — at least to some of us.
I propose that we send brief letters to all of the legislators (either in our district or the entire state) that say:
I want you to fill the budget gap by reinstating taxes on non-essential foods and beverages.
The 60% of Washington voters who voted to repeal the tax didn’t understand what was at stake, or know how much the economy was having an impact on those in need. I know you need to balance the budget, but there’s no more room to cut and still consider Washington a just state that respects basic human rights.
To show you that I’m serious, I’ve enclosed XX amount that is to be donated to the general fund. Consider this a deposit on what I’m willing to pay in taxes when I consume foods and beverages that aren’t essential for sustaining life.
Dental care is more important to me than gum that isn’t taxed.
Health care is more important to me than cheap candy bars.
Education is more important to me than inexpensive soda.
Overall, I don’t think my right to cheap candy, gum and soda is more important than the rights of children, families, seniors and others struggling during these economically difficult times.
Be a courageous leader — Stand up for the most vulnerable among us.
(name, address, and phone number)
Here’s the web page to go to in order to find your district and legislators in Washington State:
Here’s the address for the Governor:
Governor Chris Gregoire
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
I don’t want to sell this idea on the “childhood obesity” or “adult obesity” basis — I believe consumption of non-essential foods isn’t inherently bad or good — but they aren’t essential for life. I don’t think that increasing taxes on these foods will have an impact on body size — or even consumption of these foods. I think that a comprehensive strategy that combines taxes on less health-promoting foods and beverages and discounted prices on more health-promoting foods (and encourages consumption of tap water over bottled water) is the best one from a public health perspective — but not because I’m worried about weight, but overall health.
For those who think that adding taxes to foods and beverages is regressive — impacting the poor more than the wealthy, consider this fact:
Before the tax was put in place, candy bars were often selling for around $0.75 each. I now regularly see $1.00 being charged now — in grocery stores and convenience stores… AFTER the tax has been repealed. Where is that extra $0.25 going? To fund in-home care, parole for juvenile offenders so they can spend less time in custody, preschool for children in working families? Uh, no.
The actual sales tax on a candy bar was around $0.07 before — so even if the prices stayed the same, we would be taking back $0.07 out of $0.25 now going to the pockets of grocery stores and candy makers. I can live with that.