Homestretch: Soda tax question provides fizz for Murray-McGinn debate

The candidates differ on whether a sugar tax should help fund parks.
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State Sen. Ed Murray talks about what the order of his priorities will be if elected.

The candidates differ on whether a sugar tax should help fund parks.

If state Sen. Ed Murray is elected as mayor of Seattle, he will not use a soda tax to help pay for millions of dollars of backlogged city park maintenance projects and would instead push to create a metropolitan parks district. Mayor Mike McGinn first raised the idea of the tax in late September and on Tuesday night, during the final televised debate in the 2013 mayoral race, he asked Murray whether he would support it. 

During the debate, both candidates said they would look outside the Seattle Police Department for the next chief, a position currently held by an interim appointee, Jim Pugel. And a few sparks flew over a TV ad — paid for by a pro-Murray political action committee — which criticizes McGinn’s record on domestic violence prevention. Both candidates also said that ticketing outdoor marijuana smokers probably wouldn’t be a top priority for police.

The debate aired live on KCTS 9 and was simultaneously broadcast on radio station KOUW. With two weeks until Election Day, the mostly soft-gloved mayoral forum expired without any watershed moments. The dynamics in the race have remained mostly ossified throughout October, with Murray consistently leading McGinn in the polls.

The issue of the soda tax arose during a segment of the debate where each candidate was allowed to ask the other a question. McGinn asked Murray if he would fight for the tax. “In the last debate I said I didn’t care about the tax itself, the question came up in relation to the park system,” Murray said, adding later that he had supported a tax on soft drinks during his time in the state Legislature.

A report released last year said that city parks face an annual operating and maintenance shortfall of about $20 million and that there is a backlog of repair and upgrade projects that exceeds $260 million. When he first proposed the soda tax in September, McGinn said it would apply to soft drinks at a rate of 1 cent per ounce and that it could generate between $21 million and $29 million.

“Twenty nine million dollars doesn’t solve the problem," Murray said. "I recommended a metropolitan parks district, which the city of Tacoma has.” He also said he would consider such a tax to help fund health programs.

At one point during the debate, the candidates were given Velcro labels with words describing issues that have come up throughout the campaign. The moderators asked the two candidates to stick the labels on a kiosk in order of importance. McGinn put “education” on top and then placed “police,” “housing,” “parks” and “waterfront,” diagonally in the same row. “This is very impressionistic,” he said, referring to his handiwork. Murray placed the “police” label at the top of his list, followed by “housing,” “education,” “parks” and “waterfront.” Both candidates placed public financing for elections last on their lists.

Street maintenance also came up briefly. “Do you think your sidewalks are better, do you think your streets are better? I think the answer is probably no,” Murray said.

“We’re looking at decades of neglect,” McGinn said. “We count on the state to help out the city with local funding options.”

The candidates shared a brief moment of ancestral camaraderie in the last few minutes of the debate, when Murray mentioned that McGinn had won a coin toss that determined which of the two candidates would get to first ask the other a question.

“I guess I’d say luck of the Irish,” McGinn said with a chuckle.

“I never understood that phrase applied to the Irish,” Murray said, also smiling.

Murray then got back to business, asking McGinn a question about the Department of Justice consent decree and the community policing board.


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