Not often does a bowl of assorted Seattle Chocolates or a tin of Almond Roca greet you as walk into a legislative hearing room.
But this was a hearing on the candy tax bill, and the people who make the aforementioned treats had a point to sell at a hearing before the House Health Care & Wellness and Finance Committees on Friday.
And after an hour of testimony from chocolate makers and those in the health care field, you’d think some lawmakers were more sold on the deliciousness of Seattle Chocolates and Almond Roca than anything else.
During the hearing, Rep. Ross Hunter got out of his seat twice, wandered to the back of the room to fetch the candy, returned to the rostrum and offered some to his colleagues. Some politely declined; others happily accepted.
Up for debate this afternoon was whether or not candy, like food, should be exempt from Washington’s 6.5 percent sales tax. Revenue generated from the tax would go toward the newly established Public Health Improvement Account.
Prime sponsor of House Bill 2388 is Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. He said that candy and gum are not foods and should be taxed as such.
“I mean, when was the last time you turned on the TV and heard, ‘Skittles, it’s what’s for dinner?’ ” he said.
Many of the people who testified said they welcomed the tax because of the money it would bring to local health jurisdictions. A tax on candy and gum could raise $17 million in 2011 and $30 million every year after that, according to the Department of Revenue.
But Ann Haley of Tacoma’s Brown & Haley, the company that makes Almond Roca, spoke in opposition of the measure. She pointed out that candy made with flour (Milky Way bars, Kit Kat bars, licorice) would still be exempt from the tax. That could cause confusion at stores, she said.
Amber Carter of the Association of Washington Business agreed that the tax could confuse consumers. She said that Twix bars wouldn’t be taxed under the measure but Baby Ruth bars would.
Jean Thompson, who works for Seattle Chocolates, said the candy tax is bad for her business. Plus, chocolate is actually healthy and has more anti-oxidants than blueberries, she said.
“It actually is a food,” Thompson said, “And it’s an important part of people’s mental health when there are not a lot of luxuries available to them.”