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A Seattle group is pressing for a tax on espresso.
August 5, 2002 3:33 PM   Subscribe

A Seattle group is pressing for a tax on espresso. And recently they've collected the 17,000 signatures necessary to put the issue on the ballot. I'll be the first to mark myself out as a raving anti-taxation loony, but I generally accept things such as the income tax as a necessary evil given our current governmental structure. What annoys me about initiatives like this, however, is the selectiveness of it -- with an income tax, everyone pays proportionately. When you go taxing espresso, you're making some random group that you arbitrarily select pay for something they may not have any concern for. This is a step beyond sin-taxing, in that there is usually a link, however tenuous, between the tax and what it is meant to pay for. Is there any logical connection here?
posted by jammer (32 comments total)

 
Living in Seattle I think this is a ludicrous initiative. My wife was actually asked to sign the petition for this to which she responded by saying she supported the cause (education) but not the selectiveness of the tax.

The signature gatherer got pretty huffy about this and responded with something like "Well we have taxes on Alcohol and Tobacco".

To which my wife tried to explain that part of the reason for high taxes on these items is to try to in part reduce their consumption and that in Seattle the home of $tarbucks, $eattle's Best Coffee, and Tully'$ that she didn't really see a need to reduce the consumption of coffee.
posted by aaronscool at 3:45 PM on August 5, 2002


"Is there any logical connection here?"

Clearly, no.

The stated purpose of the tax is to "...increase wages for child-care teachers, assist low- and middle-income families in obtaining quality child care and increase the amount of high-quality care in Seattle"

The logical step would be to tax diapers, right? Gasoline is taxed to pay for roads, so the people who use the roads pay for them, ostensibly. If you're taxing people to pay for child care-related expenses, then tax people who use child care.

Or am I missing something?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:46 PM on August 5, 2002


No. Just a lame attempt to make some feel ok about a tax increase because they don't drink espresso. I don't care for the stuff myself but I wouldn't say ok simply because I disagree with the inefficiency of that kind of taxation - we all pay more in the end this way.
posted by pots at 3:47 PM on August 5, 2002


No, you're exactly right. My post was worded very carefully to avoid trolling and see if I could prompt any dialogue on it from people who do support motions like this. I think it's utterly stupid, and the people of Seattle would be insane to accept it. A perfect example of how taxation rapidly goes very wrong once people start using it to regulate behavior, a la sin taxes.
posted by jammer at 3:49 PM on August 5, 2002


A perfect example of how taxation rapidly goes very wrong once people start using it to regulate behavior, a la sin taxes.

Except that this has nothing to do with behavior regulations. It is (IMHO) a cynical way of getting a tax passed: you select a minority, propose a tax on them, and ask a majority to vote on it. The majority says "I'm all for education and I don't drink expresso, so what the hell!" This is a baaaaaad tax. (And although I live in Seattle, I don't drink expresso.)
posted by Shadowkeeper at 3:55 PM on August 5, 2002


What annoys me about initiatives like this, however, is the selectiveness of it -- with an income tax, everyone pays proportionately.

say what?
posted by quonsar at 4:01 PM on August 5, 2002


Drip coffee would not be taxed and espresso seemed the most obvious choice that would not burden any particular economic group. I can't believe this is going to be a tax on espresso only. How long before StarBucks start offering non-espresso-concentrate-drip-coffee-in-a-small-cup (tm).

You could probably get away with a caffeine tax (on drug related reasons), but this is silly.
posted by seanyboy at 4:13 PM on August 5, 2002


Tax milk! too many friggin babies free loading off us.
posted by Postroad at 4:14 PM on August 5, 2002


Wasn't there a similar proposal that proposed funneling tax money from coffee into programs that promoted the "green" farming of coffee beans, or subsidized their inevitable higher cost? That at least makes modicum of sense.
posted by machaus at 4:15 PM on August 5, 2002


Here's the wording of Initiative 77. Buried amongst the expected high-falutin' childcare is a worthy thing to fund clauses is:

WHEREAS, the People in their legislative capacity find that espresso beverages, as distinguished from other forms of coffee, are luxury items; and that in raising revenue it is appropriate to tax the privilege of engaging in the sale of a luxury item in order to allocate tax responsibility among persons who prefer a luxury item and can thus better afford to pay the tax;

Sounds like a luxury tax to me.

Not to be confused with Yes For Seattle's Initiative 77, a creek clean-up program. Or perhaps it's just a typo for Initiative 80.

(And this story made the rounds two months ago, when the initiative was filed.)

quonsar: it wasn't well thought through, but the intent was clear. An income tax is widely assumed to be programmed to fall fairly -- or perhaps at least equitably -- on all persons. It's not universlaly true, especially with progressive tax rates and deductions and shelters. There's actually a long tradition at the state level, though, of taxing one thing to raise money for a very tenuously related other thing. Property taxes, since frontier days, have funded school districts; today, with seniors living longer, and childless couples buying McMansions, there seems to be a larger contingent of the taxed supporting those schools. In Wisconsin, lottery revenues are used to defray property taxes (and thus fund the schools); in Illinois, a whopping increase in liquor taxes was used to pay for capital improvements in state highways and bridges.

For comparison: Berkeley Coffee Initiative, which bans (and fines!) the sale of coffee that isn't based on "fair trade" or organic principles.
posted by dhartung at 4:18 PM on August 5, 2002


oh, yeah... Now I remember it being Beserkley. Thanks Dan!
posted by machaus at 4:26 PM on August 5, 2002


Seems to me that it would largely be a tax on baristas (the people who fetch and brew your coffee drinks at places like Starbucks). Most people throw their coin change into the tip jar. If there's ten cents less of it, then there's ten cents less tip.

I mean, aside from all the other reasons this tax is stupid.
posted by coelecanth at 4:39 PM on August 5, 2002


coelecanth, I would say your point is much more valid than you seem to give it credit for... the practice you speak of is, in my experience, rather widespread. If the tax is meant to use the logic of "luxury taxes" as justification, then it fails to qualify for every dime collected from a purchaser with this habit.

As you also point out, the reasons previously commented do, I think, support the statement I'll add my (non-Seattle, espresso drinking) voice to: this tax is silly.
posted by theRegent at 4:58 PM on August 5, 2002


The logical step would be to tax diapers, right?

Nah, then the old people would complain. I think the logical step would be to tax baby clothes--oh wait, then the midgets would complain.

Damn it all. Just tax the babies.
posted by Silune at 5:11 PM on August 5, 2002


theRegent: It might balance. Slightly less change in your hand might make you slightly more inclined to throw it all in the tip jar. I've never worked food service for tips; baristas who have been through a price increase might be able to guess about it.
posted by coelecanth at 5:16 PM on August 5, 2002


i'm in seattle and i drink espresso, and while i don't see a connection between espresso tax and childcare (except maybe if you were giving the espresso to your children) i am not all that outraged by the tax. i most often get drip coffee or *gasp* brew it at home, but when i do buy a mocha it seems a luxury to me, and i don't see too much wrong with taxing luxury items.

it's five or so bucks ferrrchrists sake. anyone who's buying mochas everyday and doesn't think it's a luxury needs a reality check. try getting a job with an "interactive" agency. "no mom, we're not a dotcom."

excessive bolds tax-free today only!
posted by folktrash at 6:34 PM on August 5, 2002


I think that those who have proposed this tax should be subject to the Stupidity Tax a la Edina (of AbFab): "Why, oh why do we pay taxes, huh?! Just so we can have bloody parking restrictions, and bloody ugly traffic wardens, and bollocky pedestrian bloody crossings!!...Why not just have a "Stupidity Tax?" Just tax the stupid people!!"
posted by Modem Ovary at 7:09 PM on August 5, 2002


"Why not just have a 'Stupidity Tax?'"

They've already got one of those.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:14 PM on August 5, 2002


m_c_d - no that's just a tax on people with poor math skills.
posted by Nauip at 7:54 PM on August 5, 2002


But if we can save even ONE child!
The children, the children!
posted by HTuttle at 8:34 PM on August 5, 2002


If a truly compassionate person had any desire to protest the business acumen of Starbucks (not to mention the ethical liabilities of the bean plantations), they could strive to petition for the public awareness of worthwhile alternatives to the situation, rather than create new problems by imposing imbargoes on all varities of a certain product.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:35 PM on August 5, 2002


Jammer: I'll be the first to mark myself out as a raving anti-taxation loony, but I generally accept things such as the income tax as a necessary evil given our current governmental structure. What annoys me about initiatives like this, however, is the selectiveness of it -- with an income tax, everyone pays proportionately.

I don't guess you live in Washington state.

We don't have a state income tax in Washington, which leads to a smorgasboard of desperate, regressive tax schemes for causes a lot less worthy than childcare.

I'd support a state income tax in a heartbeat, but our fine legislators are about two decades of worst-in-the-nation traffic and schools from backing one. Until then, bring on the silly ad-hoc taxes. When the load becomes unbearable, our elected representatives will magically grow some spines, the eastern half of the state will try and fail to secede, and an income tax will replace all manner of silly spot taxes.
posted by bumppo at 11:39 PM on August 5, 2002


Please just tax Starbucks, preferably till they are taxed out of existence.
Starbucks are spreading through London like a plague, forcing small cafés out of existence with their overpriced foam, their tacky design, crap food and off-hand service.
If this is revenge for something terrible Britain did to you in the past I apologise profusely. Please take them back.
posted by rolo at 2:36 AM on August 6, 2002


I guess the question is, if the small cafés are so much better, why do people go to Starbucks? And I'm not trolling - why do people go to Starbucks if it's so awful?

In the interests of full disclosure, I am a drink tea, not coffee, and I'm pretty particular about my tea. Starbucks doesnt measure up in the tea department, so I don't go there. But the decor is okay (even if it is the same in all the stores), and I never eat the food, so I don't get it.
posted by Irontom at 5:21 AM on August 6, 2002


Is it time to start tossing stuff into a harbor again?
posted by kayjay at 6:45 AM on August 6, 2002


We don't have a state income tax in Washington, which leads to a smorgasboard of desperate, regressive tax schemes for causes a lot less worthy than childcare.

bumppo has it exactly right (though I can't say I'm agitating wildly for our ca-razy state legislature's cracked version of a state income tax). Washington state--and Seattle in particular--is fraught with this shit. I barely drink any espresso at all, but I don't care to arbitrarily cornhole those who do.

You can tell I harbor no bitterness at all from the ridiculous liquor and tobacco tax-reamings I already regularly endure.
posted by Skot at 7:56 AM on August 6, 2002


This tax makes as much sense as taxing restaurant meals for a stadium that Seattle voted down. Or taxing car registrations for a light rail system that will never be built.
posted by embed at 9:23 AM on August 6, 2002


the eastern half of the state will try and fail to secede

Hell Let'em. Aside from being a financial drain on the west side they are one of the reasons this state is so politically schizophrenic
posted by aaronscool at 9:29 AM on August 6, 2002


"Is it time to start tossing stuff into a harbor again?" Yes, and please start with all the tax and spend politicians and their communistic cronies. The whole concept of luxury/sin taxes is a divide and conquer subterfuge. Reduced to small enough 'interest groups', the psychology is that the majority will tax the minority as a method of avoiding being taxed themselfselves. Smokes, Coffee, Lottery, asspuppets, whatever. Taxes should be based on ability to pay (income tax) and/or user based (gasoline tax), otherwise those on fixed incomes can pay a higher rate of their income as taxes than wage earners.
posted by Mack Twain at 10:44 AM on August 6, 2002


What bummpo said.

The real issue here is not that this is a stupid tax (it is) but that Washington State, hampered by being joined at the legislature with an twin state that's only slightly more enlightened than Alabama, has a taxation system that's the worst of both worlds: irrational and regressive.

That taxation system, which has been made even more crazy by a series of well-funded anti-tax initiatives, pretty much mandates using these kind of gimmicks if you're going to fund any expansion of government services. And those services are needed more than ever, given the economic wipeout Seattle's taken, the wide gulfs in income between blue- and white-colar workers, and a legacy of 20 years of crappy schools and pathetic social services.

Again, I think this is a stupid idea. But it's the product of a stupid system, and if it makes it onto the ballot, I'll probably vote for it.
posted by AlexSteffen at 12:24 PM on August 6, 2002


"Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house." - Lazarus Long

But seriously, the sin taxes for alcohol and cigarettes at least have some kind of semblance of sense - think of the huge amount of public (and non-public) money that goes to pick up after the messes that these things cause:

- The cost of medical care for people who need it and can't afford it (for tobacco-caused lung or other disease, and victims of alcohol-related accidents)

- Publicly funded alcohol rehab

- The cost of catching and incarcerating drunk drivers

And the human cost is pretty huge - we can't exactly measure it in dollars, but there is a sapping of quality of life for those who suffer when exposed to tobacco smoke (which they cannot *always* avoid one hundred percent), and who are adversely affected by alcohol - injury from drunk driving accidents, loss of a loved one or friend to a drunk driving accident (particularly acute for children who lose their parents), loss of a loved one or friend to alcoholism, and on and on and on.

For the love of $deity, will someone explain to me what suffering, expense, or damage to the common good is incurred because of espresso!??!?

Perhaps I'm just an idiot, because I just bloody well don't see it. I'd argue that by being efficiently hopped-up on caffeine, public and private workers alike increase their output and effectiveness, if anything.

Hey, here's an idea: maybe anything with caffeine in it should be *tax free*!
posted by beth at 1:45 PM on August 6, 2002


Is it time to start tossing stuff into a harbor again?

They started tossing things overboard when they lowered the taxes.
posted by Jart at 2:46 PM on August 6, 2002


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