Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's time Washington State got rid of the sales tax exemption for candy

There’s absolutely no difference between feeding your child a bowl of M&Ms or a bowl of oatmeal – at least not when it comes to sales tax in Washington.

That’s because candy and gum are currently exempt from Washington's 6.5 percent sales tax and local add-ons.

Washington is one of only twenty one states that are under the illusion that candy is a basic food group worthy of a tax exemption, but that could change if Representative Jim Moeller (D-49th District) and Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36th District) are successful in repealing the exemption for candy.

House Bill 2388 and Senate Bill 6189 eliminate the sales tax on candy and gum and dedicate the revenue to public health. The core of the proposals lies in a model already established by several other states, using a definition of candy established by the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board. Under the proposals, sweets containing flour, like cookies and cakes, would not be taxed, nor would anything needing refrigeration like ice cream.

According to Department of Revenue estimates, extending the sales tax to candy and gum would raise $28 million in its first year, barely even a drop in the bucket when it comes to the state’s $2.6 billion budget shortfall, but an investment in healthcare, which is where Kohl-Welles and Moeller want the money dedicated.

Needless to say, there are people speaking out who have a vested interest in maintaining a sales tax exemption on their products. For instance:
  • Pierson Clair, the Chief Executive of Brown & Haley, the Tacoma company that makes Almond Roca and other candy products, told KOMO News that “Cocoa butter is a positive dental influence.
  • Joe Whinney, the founder and CEO of Theo Chocolates in Fremont, opposes a sales tax on candy, including the 3 oz. “Origin Bars” he sells for $5.00 each; incredibly ironic considering that their website claims that they belief “there is no luxury in products that benefit us today, while jeopardizing future generations ability to meet their needs."
Let’s take some time out for a reality check here.

There are some things that should not taxed, and food – real food – is at the top of the list. It’s such a basic necessity of life (water and shelter being two others) that we shouldn’t even go there. But candy?

Yes, chocolate does have anti-oxidants that are good for us – but that doesn’t make it food. I’m sure Almond Rocca uses only the finest nuts Washington state has to offer, but that doesn’t make it food, either.

When I worked at the Legislature I kept a large bowl of M&Ms on my desk available for anyone who stopped by, and although many of my colleagues may have felt like this was an essential part of their diet during the stress of session, there isn’t anyone I know who mistook the multicolored chocolate for food.

Food – real food – is an essential necessity that too many people are struggling to afford enough of these days, and should be exempt from sales tax.

But anyone who can afford candy can afford to pay a little bit more for it – whether that’s a candy-bar from the checkout line in the supermarket or a $5.00 delicacy made from responsibly-sourced, Fair Trade Certified cacao.

House Bill 2388 is scheduled for a hearing and possible action in the House Committee on Finance tomorrow at 1:30 PM. Readers, if you agree that it's time to get rid of this unnecessary tax exemption, please contact the members of the Finance Committee and let them know of your support.


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