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Taxing your groceries? It’s on the ballot in November

BURIEN, Wash. -- What you spend on groceries could be impacted by a big vote in November.

Washington Initiative 1634 wants to block local cities from raising taxes on certain foods, like Seattle did with sugary beverages.

'Yes! To Affordable Groceries', the group leading the campaign, is already running ads on local television. In one spot, a mother is seen shopping. She says, "I definitely can't afford new taxes on groceries."

Primarily funding those ads, the soda industry. The website Ballotpedia.org lists The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Inc., Keurig Dr. Pepper, and Red Bull North America as the top four donors to the initiative.

Grocers and labor unions also support the effort.

Saar's Super Saver Foods and Saar's Marketplace has nine locations around Western Washington. Almost all are located in neighborhoods where people are on fixed incomes. The owners say that taxing certain foods hurts their business and their customers.

"I don't think that's a choice that should be made for our customer," said Saar's General Manager Kyle Saar. "I think they should be the ones making those decisions."

Labor unions say the taxes take away working-class jobs.

"We've seen it already in cities like Philadelphia," said Pete Lamb, business representative with Teamsters 174. "The city of Philadelphia lost over a thousand jobs. A lot of these jobs are good-paying Teamster jobs."

Opponents of the move say this is about improving health and giving local cities control of their own taxes. They also say the initiative will mostly benefit the "multibillion-dollar soda industry."

The Health Kids Coalition is listed as opposing the initiative. We reached out to a spokesperson for comment. They pointed us to the statement in the state voter pamphlet guide. It takes aim at the soda industry, saying, "They are only concerned with their profits and are spending millions on this initiative-- and misleading advertisements--that would undermine local control."

According to Ballotpedia, the "Yes" group has all the money in this race, outraising the opposition $8 million to $250.

Since Seattle's "soda tax" began in January, it's collected more than $10 million. That's more than city officials expected, although it's not clear whether the tax has changed buying habits.