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California soda taxes fizzle

By Kay Bell ·
Friday, November 9, 2012
Posted: 8 am ET

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been roundly criticized for his decree that bans the sale of soft drinks larger than 16 ounces at most places in the Big Apple.

That edict came from the mayor's hand-picked health board. Violators of the sugary drink ban (grocery and convenience stores are exempt) could face a $200 fine.

Now a couple of California cities show why Bloomberg chose his particular route to outlawing over-sized sodas. If New York voters had been given a say, they likely would have said "hands off" the Cokes, Pepsis and other sweetened beverages that most of us chug down every day. In fact, they've been saying that, which is why Bloomberg circumvented them.

However, in California, the state that loves ballot initiatives more than any other, soda-related proposals did go to the electorate.

Ballot questions that would have added a penny per ounce tax on businesses that sell soft drinks and similarly sugary beverages went to voters on Nov. 6 in El Monte, Calif., and Richmond, Calif.

Residents in both areas -- El Monte is a community of around  114,000 in Southern California's San Gabriel Valley and Richmond is a slightly smaller town (population around 105,000) in the East Bay area of San Francisco -- overwhelmingly said no to a soda tax in their locales.

Almost 77 percent of El Monte voters and nearly 70 percent of Richmond's residents voted against the tax.

It's unclear whether the votes were pro-soda or anti-tax. I'd guess it was probably a combination of both, along with some "don't treat me like I'm a child" attitudes thrown in there.

While everyone agrees that too many Americans are overweight and that extra pounds can lead to serious medical problems, folks nationwide are not inclined to give up their Cokes, Pepsis or other such drinks.

They also don't like paying any taxes, even a few more cents that would have gone to fund programs to fight obesity and help their cities close budget gaps.

And they surely don't like the so-called nanny state approach to governing.

Still, look for more cities and even states to try to tax soft drinks. We love 'em. We buy 'em. And there just aren't that many more ways for governments to find money.

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