Mayor Durkan says she will veto sugary drink tax restrictions

SEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says she will veto the City Council plan to put restrictions on the use of money from the sweetened beverage tax.

A veto proof majority of seven council members just passed those restrictions late this afternoon. Only council member Able Pacheco voted against the change.

The tax on sweetened beverages like soda pop falls heaviest on people of color and the poor. So, the revenues were supposed to be used to help their families buy healthy foods.

“Since it was about health let's put a health equity lens on it and give it back to the same community it was coming from but by way of healthy food,” said Tanika Thompson of Got Green, a non-profit agency that promotes access to healthy foods.

But the tax raised nearly $7 million more than expected in its first year, so the mayor and City Council agreed to spend the windfall on other social programs.

Today's vote by the council restricts all the sugar tax revenue to its original purposes beginning in January, worrying agencies that might lose money.

“If funding cuts occur, we will face $108,000 reduction directly impacting 34 of our families. These families are primarily people of color, from immigrant refugee communities and are low income,” said Janica Lockhart of Children’s Home Society.

Council members say budget cuts will be up to mayor.

"I am disappointed that despite the warnings of their own staff, City Council is creating a budget gap of more than $7 million. Because Council has refused to fund these vital programs or put forward a balanced plan, I will veto this bill. "

“We're saying these $6 million we're discussing which is less than a fraction of 1% of the general fund budget is off limits for other needs but that leaves over 9% of the general fund budget to list your priorities,” said lead sponsor Mike O’Brien.

Today, Mayor Durkan reaffirmed the veto threat she made when we sat down with her last week.

“Yes, I think that there's no way at this time in Seattle that as mayor I could agree cutting money for seniors and food banks.”

Representatives of social service agencies are upset at the whole process, said Susan Yang, executive director of the Denise Louie Education Center.

“All I can say is we don't want to be part of your fight. All we want to do is be sure that our funding is restored. We don't care if it's the mayor, we don't care if it's the council.”

In a statement, Mayor Durkan said she’ll issue her veto in the coming days.

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