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Water tax dampens healthy choices

DAILY SUN NEWS EDITORIAL

Later this week when the temperature soars to near 110 degrees and you’re thirsty, be prepared to pay more for a drink of water.

That’s because a new tax on bottled water went into effect yesterday in our state. Although roundly rejected by voters here for about a decade, the biennial budget approved by our state representatives and senators — and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee — included the new tax.

According to the state Department of Revenue, bottled water is defined as “water that is delivered to the buyer in a reusable, safety-sealed container.” It doesn’t matter that water is calorie free and absent of sweeteners, it will still be taxed — if you’re not living on food stamps.

Under the new tax law, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program food stamp participants using their EBT cards won’t be taxed.

The new bottled water rules also say residents that don’t have safe drinking water shouldn’t be taxed. There’s also a caveat that says tax shouldn’t be charged if bottled water is sold with prescriptions. But the latter tax exemption won’t come automatically at the register — you’ll have to present a tax exemption certificate or later request a sales tax refund from the state. So, you’ll be forced to save all your receipts.

State officials say they need to tax bottled water to make up for the decline in pop sales, and the resultant decline in tax revenues. That decline is, in part, due to state health agencies promoting healthier choices in buying food and beverages.

While we agree Washingtonians should make the decision to choose healthier food and beverages, we don’t agree the state should now be taxing those choices.

Our state has a long tradition of making healthy, non-prepared foods tax-free. Bread, cheese, beef, fish, baking ingredients, etc. are all tax-free. Likewise, bottled water should be tax-free.

Gov. Inslee’s office estimates the new tax will bring in about $24 million annually. But there is a strong likelihood that the cost to administer the tax program and the additional costs to businesses will likely exceed the collections. Still, the state will add the funds to the biennial budget as part of the ever-increasing tax structure coming out of Olympia.

Proponents of the tax will argue that the costs of water sold in plastic bottles in terms of waste, clean up and production far outweigh the taxes being raised. They will also argue that the tax should be upheld as a deterrent to continued production of plastic bottles.

That may be true. But we disagree with the premise of creating a bottled water tax to pay for state operating costs.

In an era when American children and adults are increasingly obese, it makes more sense not to tax the healthiest drink on the planet — water.

Washington stands to save far more in expenses from improving the population’s health than it does by taxing bottled water.

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