I completed my undergraduate degree at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (SLO) which is essentially in the bread basket of California (central coast). Because of this close proximity to so many farms and orchards I rarely went to the grocery store for any produce. Instead I was constantly at farmers markets. I think that buying directly from the farmer like that was beneficial to both me and the farmer. I got extremely fresh produce and they didn’t have to pay any money to the store to sell their produce, thus giving them more profit. It’s a win-win. However those farmers markets are off and on and don’t provide a large profit. Most people get their food from the grocery store. Because of this most farmers make the majority of their income by selling to larger chain stores like QFC and Safeway.
The time I spent in SLO taught me the values of supporting local farmers on the central coast because of how large of an impact they have on the community. These values have lead me to believe that we should start supporting local farmers like people support local businesses. I think a way to encourage this behavior would be to modify the sales tax to tax food that comes from father regions like Florida at the current rate while excepting food that’s grown locally from the same sales tax. This would be extremely beneficial because “agriculture accounts for $51 billion – or 13 percent – of Washington’s yearly economic activity” according to the Washington policy center. With this shift in sales tax I believe it will bolster a significant proportion of our economy.
Obviously there are some things that need to be considered. For example Washington State doesn’t grow much citrus so it seems silly to increase a sales tax on items that are not grown in Washington if the intent is to support local farmers. However it might just have enough of a financial impact where we might actually be able to compare apples to oranges. There might be a point where an apple with no sales tax is an acceptable substitute for an orange from Florida or California with the same sales tax. If people start to make this switch we could see an increasing the amount of money going to Washington farms and orchards.
Now let’s talk money. A huge portion of stable income for the state depends on the fact that people need to buy food to eat. A study done by the USDA determined that an average person in 2013 spent about $300 on groceries a month. If we apply the sales tax at the state level of 6.5%, multiply by 12 months, and 7.062 million people in Washington State and that’s a whopping $1,652,500,000 dollars a year from groceries alone. Not every is going to only buy everything grown in Washington so let’s assume that we lose half of that revenue. That is still too large of a figure to just waive our hands at so money has to be made up from a tax on something else. This is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. We could nudge the behavior in two different areas while still being revenue neutral! I think that making up this loss of revenue through an increase on the gas tax makes a perfect combination. Now not only are we promoting Washington farms but we also discourage CO2 emissions as well! According the Washington State Department of Transportation they projected for Washington State to consume 2900 million gallons of gasoline and 700 million gallons of diesel a year by 2018. That means we would need to add a $0.23 per gallon tax on top of the tax that is already on gas and diesel respectively. That large of an increase will definitely be large enough to have a change in behavior and get cars off the road.
The last part of this task would be how do you actually implement this? I envision something similar to what the organic produce section looks but instead it’s something else catchy like “home grown” produce. It would have different bar codes just like the organic foods and the consumer would be able to see what their savings would be right at the register! This positive feedback loop I think would provide a huge boost to the Washington state economy while encouraging people to buy local food which, in turn, will greatly benefit our farms!