Early Childhood

Taxing Espresso to Aid Preschoolers Nixed in Seattle

By Linda Jacobson — September 24, 2003 1 min read
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In the end, Seattle voters chose cheaper espresso over upgraded early-childhood education.

Voters there last week soundly defeated Initiative 77, which would have added a 10-cent tax on espresso beverages to pay for prekindergarten programs and child-care subsidies in the city.

Sixty-eight percent of the initiative voters in the city—home to Starbucks and other coffeehouse chains—opposed the tax. Preliminary estimates put the turnout of eligible voters at around 36 percent.

Opponents of the measure, including the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, had called the tax a “noble, but ill-conceived measure,” and argued that the levy would hurt small-business owners and lead to an uneven tax system based on the products or services people buy.

Issue Gains Prominence

They also said passage of the tax might have threatened the city’s Families and Education levy—a property tax that also pays for early- childhood programs as well as other school-based services. Voters first approved the seven-year levy in 1990 and will vote again next year on renewing it.

Sponsors of Initiative 77 maintained that espresso drinks are a luxury item that could generate close to $7 million for early-childhood programs in the city.

“The need is not going away because the initiative didn’t make it,” said Laura Paskin, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle. The institute’s director, John Burbank, came up with the idea for the initiative.

But in spite of the defeat, the institute—which focuses on the needs of low-income and middle-class families—is hoping the opponents of the tax did them a favor by bringing greater attention to programs for young children.

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