CA soda tax back on legislative agenda
Two years after momentum for a statewide soda tax seemed to fizzle out, the effort is back.
A bill introduced Friday by Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, would impose a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages, raising up to $1.7 billion for health and education programs aimed at fighting childhood obesity. It mirrors prior legislation the Democrat-controlled Legislature failed to act upon.
"It's been demonstrated that the increased tax does reduce consumption," Monning said Monday. "If you look at the model of the tobacco tax, it had a very positive effect."
A prominent health care advocate, Monning has championed the bill for several years. He said studies have shown that since the 1970s, soda is the top caloric contributor to obese children, and lawmakers in several states have proposed taxes on soda.
None has ever passed. The Center for Consumer Freedom, a Washington group partly funded by the restaurant industry, opposes the bill, suggesting money from similar taxes isn't always spent as intended.
"That's how this works time and time again," senior research analyst J. Justin Wilson said. "If history is any instructor here, the moment that revenue is available, there's nothing that can prevent the state Legislature from using it for other purposes."
The bill, SB 622, would raise an estimated $1.2 billion to $1.7 billion, to be split between the Department of Public Health and the Superintendent of Public
Instruction, with some trickling down to local schools. Passage requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, and Democrats are expected to hold two-thirds supermajorities in both houses as the bill progresses.
"It is a factor," Monning said when asked if that was one reason for the reintroduction. The bill is part of a long-term strategy to garner support and eventually win passage, he said.
A recent Field Poll of Californians put support for a soda tax at 40 percent. But that number shot up to 68 percent when the proposed revenues were designated for addressing childhood obesity.
Seen as a national epidemic, childhood obesity is leading to diseases previously only seen in adults. Chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes also has spiked across all age groups, costing the state $41 billion annually, according to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.
Wilson said soda taxes don't take into account all factors leading to obesity, such as sedentary lifestyles. He also said children could switch to juices and other high-calorie beverages, which the bill doesn't address, and that soda is a small part of the problem.
"If a kid is drinking a 2-liter soda everyday, he's going to be overweight, no question," Wilson said. "But on a population level, soda is not a singular or unique contributor to obesity."
After seeing the bill founder in the Legislature before, Monning stopped short of predicting passage. But he said he would try to move the bill onward.
"We'll be pushing for this to move forward," Monning said. "I'm also realistic. It's an uphill fight. We're in it for the long haul."