Seattle voters pass judgement on espresso tax to fund education

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The Independent US

Seattle voters will pronounce today on a proposed tax on their beloved espresso coffees, which would raise money for early childhood education programmes threatened by recent budget cuts.

Seattle voters will pronounce today on a proposed tax on their beloved espresso coffees, which would raise money for early childhood education programmes threatened by recent budget cuts.

The unusual proposal to levy 10 cents per cup of espresso, latte or macchiato - but leave ordinary drip-coffee untaxed - has stirred up residents whose liberal political reflexes are equalled only by their passion for coffee. Proponents say the measure is an almost painless way of raising money for a good cause. For the price of a very modest tip, they say, the city can raise up to $7m (£4.37m) a year to give disadvantaged children a boost at the start of their school careers and help to close the so-called achievement gap.

Opponents, meanwhile, say it is bad public policy and risks hurting smaller independent coffee shops already struggling to compete with Starbucks and the other chain behemoths.

It makes no sense, their argument runs, to tax one product to pay for an entirely unrelated public programme. Unlike tobacco or alcohol, coffee is not regarded as a vice and should not be penalised as though it were.

Despite public sympathy for the measure - one early poll put support at more than 70 per cent -- both Seattle's daily papers have come out against, as has the city's popular former mayor Norm Rice. "Well intended, perhaps - but not well thought out and not good policy," was Mr Rice's judgement. "Child care is too important for us to be relying on a tax on espresso drinks to pay for it."

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