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Councilmembers Stand with Community, Call on Mayor to Honor Original Intent of Sweetened Beverage Tax

Councilmembers M. Lorena GonzálezTeresa MosquedaLisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien, transmitted a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan, expressing their deep disappointment at her refusal to honor the original intent of how all revenue collected from the Sweetened Beverage Tax (SBT) would be invested.  Instead, the Mayor has set off a false alarm amongst the non-profit community that is unnecessary, inaccurate and irresponsible.   

Citing the Mayor’s “alarmist and inaccurate rhetoric” with community-based organizations awarded SBT funding in 2019, the Mayor and her Administration conveyed information that was patently untrue, incorrect and not reflective of the conversation Council had at the July 10th Finance and Neighborhoods committee, which voted to recommend that the Council vote to adopt Council Bill 119551, as amended. The 2019 funding for SBT programs, programs that address public health, early learning, education, worker retraining, food insecurity, food access and meal programs, would not be negatively affected by this legislation. To the contrary, if Council Bill 119551 passes, the very programs the Mayor claims would be “cut” should see increases in funding to expand those programs in the Mayor’s proposed 2020 Budget, assuming she does not chose to once again raid those funds for alternate priorities.  

From the Councilmembers’ letter:

“…To be clear, the policy goals of CB 119551 would ensure that SBT revenue stays true to the intention of Ordinance 125324  … CB 119551 does not defund any programs in 2019 but does seek to provide additional clarifying language for Ordinance 125324 by ensuring that SBT proceeds shall only be used to grow programs or create new programs in areas identified as priorities in the original ordinance.”

Councilmembers González, Mosqueda, Herbold and O’Brien affirmed that the intent of the SBT “…was always intended to be a dedicated revenue source to fund the programs that are detailed in Ordinance 125324. When the City Council first considered the SBT, your City Budget Office Director made clear that his revenue forecast was conservative; meaning that it was possible that the SBT would generate more revenue than projected early on.  Indeed, the SBT has generated revenue beyond initial projections by CBO during the legislative process that created this tax.”

During the 2018 budget deliberations, community advocates led the fight to ensure SBT revenue have a direct community benefit for the communities most impacted by this regressive tax. Council has pursued this legislation to codify this revenue source to stay true to its original intent, goals, and crafting by keeping SBT revenue embedded in communities long affected by food insecurity, education divestments, and poor nutrition and their long-term health impacts.  

Continuing:

“…It is imperative we honor this agreement between community and City government, and it is Council’s intention to do so … contrary to what Interim Director Johnson and Director Chappelle communicated to dozens of our community partners.  Their email communication has unnecessarily caused shock waves of fear amongst dozens of community-based organizations.”

Council’s goal as a legislative body is to ensure that the revenue generated by the Sweetened Beverage Tax stays within the communities most impacted and the programmatic areas identified in the original law. As community organizations wrote the Mayor in a letter today, it is within the Mayor’s power and responsibility to ensure these community organizations’ baseline funding is fully funded in the 2020 budget through the General Fund. The Council looks forward to seeing these priorities reflected in the Mayor’s budget, which will be delivered to the Council in September. 

Council and community organizations have called on the Mayor to “rectify the issue created by her decision to use SBT revenue in place of general funds” and to “prioritize funding for these critical programs in her 2020 budget, while also ensuring that SBT revenue is utilized to expand these critical programs and create new programs to meet the critical food security and early learning needs of Seattle’s children and families,” per Ordinance 125324.  

A vote in Full Council on Monday, July 22 at 2:00 p.m.

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