Candy is on everybody’s mind at the end of October and early November. Adults buy Halloween treats to hand out to trick-or-treaters and then for weeks “help” the kiddies finish off their Oct. 31 haul of sweets.
San Francisco, however, is focusing on another sugary indulgence. City Supervisor Scott Wiener wants voters to agree to a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on soda and other drinks with added sugar.
Don’t go hoarding your colas and juice drinks just yet, San Franciscans. The vote, if it happens, wouldn’t be until November 2014.
And given public reaction to similar soda tax efforts elsewhere, the chances of it passing are not good.
Soda taxes tough sale
Thirty-four states and Washington, D.C., already collect regular sales taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages but, according to an October 2012 report by Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, the taxes are too small to affect consumption.
That same report also found that since 2009, policymakers in approximately 24 states and six cities have proposed additional taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.
None of the added tax proposals have made it into law.
I know, you’re thinking what about the Big Apple? New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-soda effort wasn’t a tax. He tried last year to ban the sale of sugary drinks served in containers larger than 16 ounces. The move was challenged in court and declared illegal by a state judge. The mayor and ban opponents are awaiting final word from New York’s highest court.
Will the traditionally liberal voters of San Francisco break through the soda-tax barrier?
It will take two-thirds of them to agree to Wiener’s proposal for it to become law. A majority of voters might be OK with paying more for sugary drinks because, according to Wiener, the estimated $31 million a year the tax would generate will go to nutrition, health and physical fitness programs.
Everybody in the Golden State is all about looking and feeling better, right? Well, maybe not in the California towns of El Monte and Richmond. Soda tax ballot initiatives in those locales fizzled in 2012.
But when taxes are tied to a specific goal, they usually are viewed at least a little bit more favorably. All Californians also agreed in the last election to raise taxes to help their state get on a more solid fiscal footing.
Most Americans hate soda taxes
San Franciscans could, however, follow the national trend found in an April survey by Harris Interactive. That online poll in conjunction with Health Day found that most U.S. adults overwhelmingly oppose soda and candy taxes.
Between 56 percent and 58 percent said no to added taxes on sweets, while only 21 to 23 percent were in favor. Many respondents also doubted that the added costs would deter unhealthy overconsumption.
That’s the perception that Wiener and his soda-tax advocates will have to change.
Would you support a tax on sodas and other sugary drinks? Do you agree with the Harris poll that higher prices don’t necessarily promote healthy activity? Or do you think soda taxes are just the latest example of a nanny state governance run amok?
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Veteran contributing editor Kay Bell is the author of the book “The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes” and co-author of the e-book “Future Millionaires’ Guidebook.”