Capitol Alert

Assembly committee rejects another soda tax bill

Craig Ruth a filler operator gets ready to load tops that will go on cans of a Go Girl drink made for women. NorCal Beverage Co. Inc. was founded in 1937 and is based in West Sacramento. Photo taken Feb. 15, 2011.
Craig Ruth a filler operator gets ready to load tops that will go on cans of a Go Girl drink made for women. NorCal Beverage Co. Inc. was founded in 1937 and is based in West Sacramento. Photo taken Feb. 15, 2011. rbyer@sacbee.com

The Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday rejected the latest effort by health groups to impose taxes on sugar-flavored soft drinks and other beverages to fight what was described as an epidemic of diabetes.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 1357 by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, would have imposed a two-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages, making soda-drinking more expensive and raising at least $3.5 billion a year for health education and dental programs. It garnered only six votes in the 19-member committee, all from Democrats, while three Democrats joined seven Republicans in opposition and three Democrats didn’t vote, which had the same effect as voting no.

“Don’be be fooled by the arguments made by the opposition,” Bloom pleaded before the vote. “The driving cause (of diabetes) is too much sugar.”

Industry lobbyists said that singling out sweet sodas is unfair because obesity and diabetes have many causes and other sugary foods would not be taxed. A two-cent-per-ounce tax would have doubled the cost of some store-bought soft drinks. One of the opposing Democrats, San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, said it would be part of a “regressive tax structure” that hits poor families hard.

Tuesday’s vote was the latest skirmish in a long-running war between health groups and the soft drink industry over imposing new taxes to discourage the consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks and raise money for health education programs.

A number of soda tax bills have been introduced but none has reached the floor of either legislative house, thanks to strong opposition lobbying by the soft drink industry and its business allies. The California Chamber of Commerce labeled Bloom’s bill a “job killer” – ironically, since the chamber helped Bloom win election from the Santa Monica area in 2012, defeating an incumbent Democratic Assembly member.

Had the bill advanced to the Assembly floor, it would required a two-thirds vote to pass – unlikely, given the makeup of the Assembly.

Soda tax advocates have also pursued their cause at the local level, winning in Berkeley but losing in San Francisco, Richmond and El Monte.

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