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Originally published Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 10:07 PM

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Mayor McGinn suggests soft-drink tax for parks money

At a mayoral forum sponsored by the Seattle Parks Foundation, Mayor Mike McGinn proposed a 1-cent-an-ounce tax on sugary beverages as a way to support city parks.

Seattle Times political reporter

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Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is floating the idea of a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages, including canned soda and fountain drinks, as a way to raise money for Seattle parks.

McGinn announced his proposal at a mayoral forum Thursday night sponsored by the Seattle Parks Foundation.

While details were sketchy, McGinn said his plan would raise the city’s business-and-occupation (B&O) tax on businesses that sell sugary drinks. It’s an idea McGinn said his office considered in 2011 but did not publicly propose at the time.

A 1-cent-per-ounce tax could raise between $21 million and $29 million a year, McGinn said, citing estimates developed for his office in 2011.

“This, I think, would be a fabulous potential funding source,” McGinn told the audience of parks boosters during the forum at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

McGinn said he’s not immediately proposing the new tax to the Seattle City Council. Instead, he said, his staff will present the idea to a committee now examining future funding needs for Seattle parks.

The group also is looking at options including a renewal of a 2008 parks levy set to expire next year and a possible new Metropolitan Parks District with independent taxing authority.

A city report last year found Seattle is facing a $20 million a year shortfall in the cost of operating and maintaining parks. In addition, the report said city parks now have a backlog of major maintenance projects exceeding $270 million.

Asked whether his sugary-drink-tax proposal would apply to sugar-sweetened coffee and espresso drinks, McGinn said he wasn’t sure and that such details can be worked out later if the idea moves forward. “I think that is one of the things you have to define,” he said.

McGinn’s challenger, state Sen. Ed Murray, was skeptical of the idea.

Murray noted he’d voted in the Legislature for higher taxes on soft drinks, candy and bottled water in 2010 to help close a $4.5 billion budget hole. But voters repealed the taxes that November after an initiative challenge funded by the beverage industry and other businesses.

Murray predicted the soft-drink industry would again fight and defeat any new tax in Seattle. “I don’t think it’s a viable option,” he said in an interview.

Murray said he does support other funding sources for city parks, including renewal of the parks levy and a possible new taxing district.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner

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