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Soda bottlers ask governor for tax veto. Is Chopp joining them?

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on April 23, 2010 at 7:30 am |
April 22, 2010 5:58 pm

An $800 million tax package is due to become law today, but Gov. Chris Gregoire is hearing last-minute pleas to veto its tax on soda pop.

Bottlers have sent her a letter with the request, and one legislator says House Speaker Frank Chopp has also tried to persuade her to veto the tax.

I’ve heard no indication she’ll do any such thing. The Diet Coke-drinking Gregoire has been the most visible supporter of the 2-cents-per-can tax, and her legislative director told me Thursday he doesn’t expect her to veto anything in the revenue package.

But Sen. Rodney Tom told me Chopp is pushing for a partial veto of the bill. I called Chopp’s office, but his spokeswoman couldn’t reach him Thursday afternoon.

Gregoire’s office said she and Chopp talked Thursday morning. She’s due to sign the bill at 1:30 p.m. today.

Whatever is going on behind closed doors, there is a new complaint about the tax that is just now coming to some lawmakers’ attention.

Local distributors like Harbor Pacific Bottling Co. in Elma were supposed to be spared the direct impact of the tax, because it contains an exemption for a bottler’s first $10 million in sales. But the industry now believes those small operations may not be exempt, because they partner with each other to have their bottling done at central locations, said Harbor Pacific general manager Tim Martin.

“It could very well put us out of business,” Martin said.

Martin, who is also president of trade group the Washington Beverage Association, said bottlers hand-delivered a letter to the governor this week. He didn’t know about any push by Chopp.

Tom, a Democrat who voted against the taxes but was a key player in budget negotiations, was steamed that Chopp would try to cut out $34 million from the package. He said that money would have to be taken from the state’s ending fund balance, leaving less of a cushion for any future budget shortfall.

“I just don’t think that that helps, when you make an agreement with the Senate and afterwards you go back on your word,” Tom said.

“As far as I know, he will not be successful, but it hasn’t gone over real well — not only with the Senate but even among his House members that I’ve talked to. It’s typical Frank.”

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