New Bottled Water Tax

A few days ago, Governor Gregoire proposed an array of tax hikes on items deemed as discretionary expenditures, in order cover the budget deficit. The debate between proponents of new revenue sources vs. advocates for reigning in spending will no doubt continue across the local blogosphere and talk radio. One peculiar component of this tax package of particular interest to me, though, is a per-ounce tax on bottled water.

To fill a revenue shortfall in a way that allows for reduced spending cuts, government will often propose new taxes on items that are easier to gain public support for, because they affect only a subset of the population that buy products that can be argued to be discretionary; better yet, they might even be regarded as vices. The latter strategy often gets termed a “sin tax,” which you see commonly on cigarettes, alcohol, gambling-related items, and increasingly targeting obesity-inducing items like candy bars and soda pop. Sin taxes are easier to sell to the public because they carry with them the advantage, along with increasing revenue, of dissuading at least to some slight degree, a behavior deemed less than favorable.

This time they threw bottled water into the mix. Personally, I’ve always felt like paying for water is a little silly to begin with, and I suppose that same attitude allows some to justify this expenditure as discretionary. They might even argue that bottled water, like the other sin tax items I mentioned, is a vice, due to the environmental impact. This is where the logic of such a tax begins to fail me, however, because we’re talking about a per-ounce tax instead of a per-receptacle tax. Basing the tax on the quantity of water in the container punishes those among bottled water users that seem to me to have a lesser environmental impact by virtue of purchasing their bottled water in larger receptacles, disregarding the fact that larger receptacles likely have a much lower ratio of plastic per ounce of water contained than their smaller counterparts will.

If one wishes to gauge the environmental impact of bottled water, I doubt they’ll find the culprits to be businesses who are stocking their water coolers with ten-gallon tanks from the Culligan Man that are usually re-used (which is even better than recycling, by the way) by the company that delivers and replaces them. The problem is the hoards of individual Joe Q. Plumbers out there who regularly buy twelve-ounce bottles instead of just refilling their Nalgenes, then recycle each one. Or worse yet, throw it away because they’re too lazy to find a recycling can. Or still worse, drop it on the ground and contribute to the most common form of littler next to cigarette butts and chewing gum.

Creative new money grabs to fill a budget shortfall are disdainful enough in a state with a spending problem as it is, without piling on a backwards approach of dishing out an equal punishment to those whose vice, if you want to call it that, is to a lesser degree. It doesn’t help the state’s cause of wanting to be on the leading edge of environmental issues, either, when it’s made so obvious that it’s more about the revenue.

Urban Garden Share

Time to brag for a bit about my better half for creating a garden featured on King 5 News (our local NBC affiliate), and in Sunset magazine!

We’ve been budding locavores for a while now, having been inspired by books such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Fortunately, we live only a short distance from one of the only year-round farmers’ markets around, in Seattle’s University District.

This year, we wanted to take our own personal gardening to the next level. Problem is: we live in the city; we have a postage-stamp lot, of which the only part that receives a generous amount of sun is the park strip, where all the neighbors’ dogs pee as they walk by; and p-patches only give you a ten-by-four foot rectangle, cost money, and have a current waitlist of over 1,500 people.

Enter urbangardenshare.org. This gardeners’ version of match.com connects people who want to garden with people who have some extra space that they’d like to have a garden in, but don’t have the time or expertise to work the land properly. The home/land owner provides the space and water, the gardener does the labor, and they share the produce. Ingenious in its simplicity!

We were matched up with an outstanding family on Phinney Ridge (about a mile from our house) who had a vacant lot adjacent to their house, back from the road, gently sloping toward the south (ideal for sun exposure) with four and a half pre-terraced beds about three feet deep by twenty feet long. My Master-Gardener wife couldn’t have asked for a more perfect canvas on which to work. The month of April involved ground prep and preparing starts in the windowsill of our dining room.

Our daughter Fiona (who turned three at the end of July) was an all-star helper and pupil through the whole journey, developing a healthy distaste for dandelions, and learning to emulate her mother’s gardening prowess in other important ways. We gave her free rein to eat anything she wanted out of the garden—a privilege she embraced with open arms. Snap peas were an especially big hit. What an awesome way for her to develop an appreciation for fresh veggies, the labor that goes into growing them and the pride of enjoying something she helped to cultivate.

Some of our bounty: from tiny tomatoes to humongous carrots, lots of leafy greens, strawberries, radishes, beets, and tomatillos for salsa.

(In case you’re wondering, we weren’t actually harvesting carrots and canning salsa as early as August. Some of these pictures were added at a later date.)

The Sunset featurette (July 2009) with the urbangardenshare.com founder