Soda Tax

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In Berkeley, Soda Tax Measure Is New Front in Social Activism

Mario Savio stands on top of police car in front of Sproul Hall on Oct 1. 1964. (Courtesy of UC Berkeley, The Bancroft Library).

Mario Savio stands on top of police car in front of UC Berkeley’s Sproul Hall on Oct 1. 1964. The protest is considered the birth of the Free Speech Movement. (Courtesy of UC Berkeley, The Bancroft Library).

By Erika Kelly

Berkeley, the originator of movements ranging from Free Speech to Healthy Eating has a new cause: taking on the soft drink industry. On November 4th, the city’s voters will decide whether to tax sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

‘My entire family has been a part of activism around Berkeley.’
— Dr. Vicki Alexander

No such tax has ever passed anywhere in the nation.

The effort is bringing out progressives in Berkeley who have lobbied for social change for decades. Berkeley city leaders and health advocates have joined a coalition to support the measure, in hopes of igniting a nationwide fight against soda consumption. Meanwhile, the beverage industry is spending big to defeat the measure. Continue reading

Election 2014: San Francisco, Berkeley Consider Soda Taxes

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

When it comes to the 2014 election, the Bay Area is ground zero on a fight being watched across the country. Both Berkeley and San Francisco voters are considering soda taxes.

They’re not the first cities to try to slap a tax on sugary beverages. In California alone Richmond and El Monte tried similar measures in 2012 — and failed. New York City tried to ban large servings — and failed.

If either one of the current measures passes it will be first in the country. The two proposals are similar, yet key differences might make one or the other more likely to be passed. Continue reading

Judge Rules Berkeley Must Change Soda Tax Language

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Update September 2, 6:05 p.m.: A judge ruled Tuesday that Berkeley officials must change the soda tax measure language because it is currently misleading.

Soda tax advocates say this change “doesn’t concern us at all.”

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo said the city’s statement that the tax would only be imposed on “high-calorie, sugary drinks” is “a form of advocacy and therefore not impartial.”

Grillo ordered the city to change the summary to say that the tax would apply to “sugar-sweetened beverages,” which he said is more neutral and less likely to create prejudice for or against Measure D.

Anthony Johnson and Leon Cain filed the lawsuit in August. Cain has previously attended Berkeley council meetings on behalf of the No Berkeley Beverage Tax campaign. Continue reading

National Soda Tax Bill Introduced in Washington

Richmond voters will decide next November on a soda tax. (Karen Blumberg: Flickr)

National bill would create an excise tax on sugar, as opposed to San Francisco and  Berkeley measures which tax ounces of beverage. (Karen Blumberg: Flickr)

For the first time since 2009, legislation proposing a national tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages is under consideration in the House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Act — or SWEET Act — on Wednesday.

Tax would create a “built-in incentive” for soda makers to reduce sugar concentration.
The bill would levy an excise tax on sugar content in beverages. This is different from the taxes proposed in San Francisco and Berkeley, which would levy a tax per-ounce of sugar-sweetened beverage.

Under the SWEET Act, manufacturers would pay a tax of one cent per teaspoon of sugar or other sweetener added to most beverages. For point of reference, a 20-ounce soda contains 16 teaspoons of sugar. The tax works out to just under a penny-per-ounce of beverage. Drinks such as milk, infant formula, alcoholic beverages and many juices are excluded. Continue reading

San Francisco Supervisors Put Soda Tax on Ballot

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a November ballot measure to tax soda and sugary drinks Tuesday afternoon, but not with the unanimous vote they were looking for.

If passed by a two-thirds majority of San Francisco voters, the new legislation will tax soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages at two cents per ounce and direct the revenue to the city’s public health and recreation and parks departments and the school district.

The board voted 6-4 this afternoon to place the initiative by supervisors Scott Wiener and Eric Mar before voters, with supervisors Jane Kim, Katy Tang, Norman Yee and London Breed voting against it. Continue reading

How Coverage of Richmond, El Monte Soda Tax Proposals Played Out

Jeff Ritterman, Richmond city councilman who introduced Richmond's soda tax, campaigns for its passage in August, 2012.  (Mina Kim/KQED)

Jeff Ritterman, Richmond City Council member  who introduced Richmond’s soda tax, campaigns for its passage in August, 2012. (Mina Kim/KQED)

In 2012, voters in the California cities of Richmond and El Monte soundly defeated proposed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. The ballot measures were widely covered by local, state and national press. Now, 15 months later comes an analysis of that coverage, a look at what themes were covered on both sides.

To be clear, the analysis comes not from a journalism school, but from the Berkeley Media Studies Group, a public health advocacy organization. BMSG looked at more than 200 news stories and opinion pieces — with nearly two-thirds of the coverage focused on Richmond.

Richmond and El Monte proposed similar taxes — a penny per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages — but for different reasons. In Richmond, the tax was placed on the ballot as a public health measure, to fight childhood obesity. El Monte (Los Angeles County) was facing bankruptcy and saw a soda tax as way to bolster funds for city services. “One of the key takeaways that we saw had to do a lot with how the opposition campaigns differed, based on the unique character of each of the cities that we studied,” said Pam Mejia, lead author of the study. Continue reading

Study: No Job Loss from Soda Tax

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, would have no negative effect on jobs, a new study shows. In fact, there would be a small increase, researchers estimate.

A team led by Lisa Powell, an economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, analyzed the effect of a 20 percent tax on sugar-swettened beverages. That works out to a little more than a penny-per-ounce. They looked at the impact in two states: Illinois and California.

“Effectively we found that there was pretty much zero change in jobs, zero net effect,” Powell told me in an interview.  Continue reading

Is San Francisco Primed to Approve a Soda Tax?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

On Tuesday, San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener says he will propose a 2 cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. If the board passes his proposal, San Francisco voters will see it on the ballot next November.

This tax is double the amount proposed last year in elections in the California cities of Richmond and El Monte. Those were a penny-per-ounce each and both were defeated by voters.

In addition to the amount of the tax, there’s another major difference between Wiener’s proposal and the two that failed. In Wiener’s plan, revenues generated by the tax — an estimated $31 million per year — would be earmarked for children’s recreation and nutrition programs. In Richmond and El Monte, revenues would have gone to the general fund. Voters were skeptical that soda tax revenues would ever really fund children’s health programs, despite city council resolutions that they would.

Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, said he thinks the plan has “a very good chance” before San Francisco voters, specifically because of the earmarked funds. Continue reading

New Factors in Play for Legislators Considering Statewide Soda Tax

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A soda tax failed at the ballot at two California cities last November. Before that, a statewide soda tax failed two years ago. But advocates and legislators are trying again. A bill that would require a penny-per-ounce tax on any sugary beverage is back in front of legislators and, so far, has passed out of two Senate committees.

The bill by Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) has two explicit goals: to “discourage excessive consumption” by increasing the price of sugary drinks and to create a Children’s Health Promotion Fund.

“We’re in the midst of a public health crisis fueled by childhood obesity,” CaliforniaHealthline reports Monning said to the Senate Committee on Health last week. “This legislation sets an alternative path toward health and wellness.”

The health committee approved the bill. Next stop is the Senate appropriations committee.

While the soda industry is expected to be back in force for this bill, as it was for the other soda-tax efforts, this time there are new forces in play. Continue reading

Bill for Statewide Soda Tax Introduced

By Mina Kim

(poolie/Flickr)

(poolie/Flickr)

Richmond voters may have crushed an effort to pass a soda tax last fall, but that’s not stopping one lawmaker from trying to tax sodas statewide.

State Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) tried to pass a statewide soda tax two years ago that failed, but with Democrats expected to hang on to supermajorities in both houses, Monning thinks this time is different.

“The political train has changed in 2012, but it’s still not going to be automatic by any means,” Monning says. “Any tax is going to be an uphill fight.”

Monning’s bill would slap distributors of sugary drinks with an excise tax of a penny-per-ounce, the same amount that was proposed in Richmond and El Monte, in southern California. The bill would further create a Children’s Health Promotion Fund which would then split all revenue between the State Department of Public Health and Superintendent of Public Instruction.

A recent Field Poll showed support for a tax if the money went to children’s nutrition and physical education. Continue reading