By Andrew Stelzer
From the get-go, the face of Richmond’s proposed tax on sugar sweetened beverages has been city Councilmember Jeff Ritterman. “If we’re successful we’ll make history,” he tells me.
Ritterman is a retired cardiologist who got the council to put the penny-per-ounce tax on next month’s ballot. He says improving the health of the local community isn’t the only goal.
“Once the sugar-sweetened beverage taxes become ubiquitous — and I’m pretty sure they will, it’s just a question of when,” he says, “if we are victorious it will happen a lot sooner.”
But the health issues behind the tax have taken a back seat to questions about how the city will spend the money the tax would raise.
The main argument from Measure N opponents is that the tax proceeds won’t necessarily go to fight obesity. While there is an accompanying measure before voters to direct the money to obesity-fighting efforts, the money raised would go into the city’s general fund. Billboards and flyers all over town — paid for by the American Beverage Association, a soft drink lobbying group — drive that “general fund” message home.