Fight over soda tax out west going down to the wire

The most expensive city-level ballot initiative in US history is playing out in three prominent liberal bastions out west. On Tuesday, residents of San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany California will vote on Proposition V - a one cent  per ounce tax on sugary soda drinks.

At this point, it's hard to tell which side is ahead. Tens of millions of dollars in ads have been poured into the fight, with the anti tax forces, led by the American Beverage Association representing soft drink manufacturers, outspending the pro-tax forces led by health advocates by 3-2.

The way both sides are framing the issue is where we see the usual schism in American politics.


So much cash has now streamed into the soda tax debate in the Bay Area — with millions dropping almost daily in the final sprint — that the campaigns could have given $40 to each resident across the three cities considering taxes. Polls show a tight race — although neither side will publicly share its data.

“It could very well be the turning point in how people perceive soda,” said David Goldberg, a spokesman for Healthy Food America, a nonprofit backed by the Houston-based Arnolds. “If one or more of these measures passes, there will be, if not a groundswell, a significant uptick in interest.”

The beverage industry is dismissive of the idea that what happens in California will spread like wildfire. “I just don't see something passing in the Bay Area sweeping the State Capitol in Des Moines — or pick another mainstream city or state,” Susan Neely, president and CEO of the industry trade group, told POLITICO.

But advocates see their effort as the beginning of a movement — another cause that California can export, like recycling, gay rights and smoking bans.

“We’re already hearing from a lot of places that are interested [in soda taxes] and they are all watching closely,” Goldberg said.

If a tax is approved by voters in either Oakland or San Francisco, it would be a first for a major city in the U.S. and would move such a tax more into the mainstream.

Berkeley's 2014 passage of a soda tax was dismissed as an outlier. That same cycle, San Francisco didn’t approve a similar proposal -- 55 percent voted in favor, short of the two-thirds needed to pass the earmarked tax. This time, the initiative only needs a simple majority.

Editor Lifson wrote about the Berkley soda tax fight 2 years ago:

Measure D amounts to class warfare because it taxes soda pop that is favored by low income people while leaving untaxed equally caloric fruit juices and many coffee drinks that are the sugar high of choice for higher income people. In addition, soda pop purchased from mom and pop small grocery stores is exempted (I guess they don’t make you fat?), while that sold by supermarkets pays full freight.

I don’t drink soft drinks much – maybe 5 times a year, usually at a restaurant where there is no alternative. But I resent people imposing their dietary preferences on others, and using items that are unfashionable as the object of their wrath, while leaving their own elite preferences untaxed. 

This point is echoed by some small grocery stores in the bay area who resent elites dictating what they can eat or drink:

Tax opponents — whose campaign is almost exclusively funded by the American Beverage Association, which represents PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group — include small grocers, retailers and restaurateurs who argue that a sugary drink tax is bad for business, and will hit hardest on already squeezed working-class residents.

“I’m not here representing the beverage companies,” says Abdul Taleb, who has run his Mi Carnal corner grocery store in a predominantly Latino Oakland neighborhood for a decade and is featured prominently in anti-tax advertisements. “I’m doing this because I think it’s unfair to low-income communities.”

Taleb, whose corner store boasts an impressive display of fresh produce and meats, says he wants to see incentives to encourage healthy food choices, not taxes that will increase the cost of living for his customers. He’s particularly upset that many of the people in his community that will be most affected by the tax don’t have the privilege of voting for or against it because they may work long hours or may not be citizens.

Taleb says he’s received threatening phone calls over his public opposition to the tax. Other store owners say they were tricked into appearing in opposition ads and have since come out in favor of the proposal.

Hard to say how anyone could be "tricked" into taking a position for or against an issue. More likely, those shop owners were also threatened for opposing the tax.

As liberals become desperate to fund their pet schemes, "sin taxes" will skyrocket. The idea that drinking the all-American Coke or Pepsi is now considered a "sin" shows that going forward, nothing will be sacred, including snacks like potato chips and probably soon, red meat.

Obamacare gives government the right to dictate what you put in your body because "preventable" diseases and conditions add to the health care bill for all. In the name of "public health," you will be browbeaten into making food selections that are considered "healthy," regardless of your right to choose. It's a slippery slope that many opponents of Obamacare pointed out at the time the ACA became law and 6 years later, appears to be the case.