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Tuesday, July 30, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Espresso-tax signatures submitted

Seattle Times staff reporter

Advocates for Initiative 77, the ballot measure that would add a 10-cent tax on espresso drinks in Seattle, yesterday submitted the first installment of their required 17,000 signatures.

The group presented 18,000 signatures and plans to offer more in the coming weeks. Initiative sponsors typically submit more signatures than required to ensure that they have enough valid signatures.

The initiative has sparked sharp debate between advocates of the tax, who want the funds to benefit the salaries of child-care providers, and opponents, who claim such a tax is a bad business practice.

The proposed tax would be applicable to espresso drinks, but not drip coffee, in many city retail establishments and restaurants.

"This is not something that is frivolous," said supporter Angelia Maxie, director of Tiny Tots Development Center.

"It is impossible for me to pay the wages I need to pay my staff the going rate. I can cut clientele, but where will those children go?"

Maxie said the tax would help retain child-care providers. She said the child-care industry has high turnover in part because providers are not paid adequately.

"It's good business to support workers, their families and the children," she said.

Advocates for the tax say it would raise between $7 million and $10 million annually, a figure critics dispute.

The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce opposes the tax, noting that there is no relationship between the fee and the programs it would fund.

"We think it's really disappointing," said Stephanie Bowman, director of government relations for the chamber. "Initiative 77 at its baseline is a bad tax policy. It hurts small businesses selling espressos. We're concerned about the precedent it's going to set" for taxing specialty items.

The chamber estimates the tax would generate between $1 million and $3 million.

The City Council has 20 days in which to validate the signatures.

The City Council can adopt the initiative as it stands, reject it without offering an alternative or reject it while offering an alternative measure.

Sheila Lalwani: 206-464-2194 or slalwani@seattletimes.com.

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