Sunday, June 2, 2002

SEATTLE A proposed tax could hit Seattle residents where it really hurts: their coffee mugs.
A group of child care advocates, seeking more money for early education, filed an initiative Friday that would put a 10-cent city tax on espresso drinks.
But in Seattle, where voters have already voted to tax tobacco, meals and hotel rooms, among other things, word of the proposal caused barely a jolt among the area’s latte lovers.
“Coffee, in a way, it’s kind of a luxury item,” said Patty Grazini, who frequents the Diva Espresso Bar in Seattle’s Greenwood district. “As long as the money went to the programs it was supposed to, I would support it.”
The Early Learning and Care Committee, which is made up of parents, teachers and child care directors, expects that the tax would raise $7 million to $10 million a year in this coffee-addicted city.
The money would be used to increase wages for child care teachers, help low- and middle-income families obtain quality child care and increase the amount of high-quality care available in Seattle, said Lisa Moy, campaign manager for the initiative.
The committee has until early August to collect the 17,228 valid signatures necessary to get the initiative on the ballot in November.
Melissa Petersen, a server at Diva Espresso, wasn’t so sure the initiative was a good idea. An extra 10 cents is a lot to ask for a drink that can cost $3 to $4, she said.
“They’ve got a smoking tax, regular taxes, why not a yuppie tax?” Miss Petersen said sarcastically.
Miss Grazini, 50, averages two cappuccinos a day and has no problem flipping the bistro an extra couple of dimes. The tax would bring the cost of her daily caffeine dosage to about $4.20, or an additional $73 a year.
Under the plan, drip coffee would not be taxed.
Miss Moy said that taxing espresso drinks is a guaranteed source of income in Seattle, where many residents can’t get through the day without a caffeine hit.
“We know that the city of Seattle voters are dedicated to their children,” she said. “This is one way they can enable children more access to quality pre-kindergarten care.”
Because the tax would apply to businesses that gross more than $50,000 annually, Miss Moy said Starbucks and Tully’s Coffee Seattle’s main coffee purveyors have been informed of the group’s plan.
In a prepared statement, Starbucks said the company did not understand why the group “would recommend an additional consumer tax on espresso beverages, or any other single consumer product, to fund this initiative.”
Company spokeswoman Audrey Lincoff would not comment further.
The tax would do little to affect business at Diva Espresso’s four locations in Seattle, manager Stephen Johnson said.
“Regular customers would initially notice, but they would adapt to it very readily,” Mr. Johnson said. “I think coffee’s a pretty strong drug. People need their caffeine.”

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