A newstip that piqued our interest — and our appetites

Some of the candy we purchased in researching this post

About a month ago, a reader called in to deliver a news tip that piqued our interest – and our appetites.

He claimed that a day after the state-mandated sales tax on candy, soda and bottled water was repealed by voters, major grocery store chains upped their prices by the same margin as the tax.

Consumers would fork over the same amount for their M&Ms both before and after the tax was repealed, he said.

In other words, retailers would pocket an extra 9 cents for each package of Reese’s Pieces they sold while the state would simply go without. That was the caller’s hunch.

Had we just stumbled onto Candygate 2010?

We decided to test his theory by looking into whether retailers would charge more for the snacks and water immediately after that sales tax went away.

On Wednesday night, we made trips to Safeway, QFC, Walgreens and a convenience store on Kitsap Way.

At each stop, we picked up a candy, gum and water. We took note of how much the stores charged for soda.

We returned a day later — when stores were told to stop collecting the sales tax —  to buy those same items and compare the receipts.

The caller’s theory didn’t hold up. At three of the four stores, we spent less on our purchases the second day.

But the convenience store charged us $3.90 both times for a package of Wrigley’s 5 Gum, a Three Musketeers candy bar and a 20-ounce bottle of Aquafina. A 23-cent sales tax was tacked on to both purchases.

Despite what we encountered there, state Department of Revenue spokesman Mike Gowrylow wrote in an e-mail that the Dec. 2 transition “has gone smoothly as far as we know” for most retailers.

He said that consumers should demand a refund if stores charge them for a sales tax on candy, gum or water.

If that doesn’t work, they can seek a refund from the DOR, he said.

The bigger problem for the agency is retailers who stopped collecting the tax before Dec. 2. “But we really can’t do anything about that,” he said.

Unfortunately for us, there was no corporate grocery store conspiracy to unravel — but at least we got to eat a bunch of candy.

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