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Monday, October 28, 2013

Soda Wars: Scott Wiener to Propose Beverage Tax

Posted By on Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 10:59 AM

click to enlarge Pay up, you!
  • Pay up, you!

It was a move that went down easier than a Dr Pepper on a hot summer's day: Supervisor Scott Wiener packaged an alarmingly thorough press release announcing his proposal to levy a tax upon sugary beverages with a big writeup in the Chronicle

Whether San Francisco voters will slurp up a measure to charge themselves an additional two cents an ounce for the privilege of stocking up on Mountain Dew remains to be seen. "Big Soda" has taken the fizz out of similar measures, most recently across the bay in Richmond.

Prior to California Proposition 26, proposals like Wiener's could have been handled legislatively, without voters weighing in. By redefining "fees" and "taxes," however, Prop. 26 now requires We the People to weigh in on matters like this -- and further requires a two-thirds majority. It warrants mentioning that one of the major funders of Prop. 26 was the American Beverage Association

So now we've got the makings of a soda war.

See Also: Soda Consumption Fizzes Up Among Teens

It's a war in which Wiener has been grappling behind the scenes since very early in the year. And it's one he thinks he's got a chance of winning.

  • The Board earlier this year unanimously approved a resolution backing a state proposal to levy a penny-an-ounce soda tax (that bill stalled in the senate).

  • Polling Wiener cites indicates around 70 percent of city voters would approve some form of soda tax (meaning Big Soda has to only sway about five percent of the electorate).

  • And, unlike the Richmond proposal -- in which money raised simply "went into the government black hole" -- Wiener's measure would direct the $31 million or so a year into health and nutrition programs administered by city departments and overseen by a designated committee.

A recent study of California youth soda consumption revealed that sugary beverage consumption is down overall among kids -- but up among adolescents. San Francisco consumption is notably lower than most every other county.

Soda-drinking, however, is heaviest among poor and minority teens. Asked how he'd counter the charge that a tax weighs heaviest on the poor while hardly affecting the wealthy, Wiener quickly notes that "developing diabetes is a much bigger regressive tax on low-income communities than paying a sugary beverage tax. It's not even close."

Also, he points out, "We have language in the measure giving priority in terms of spending the proceeds of the tax to low-income, disadvantaged communities."

Wiener's measure will be introduced before the Board tomorrow and may come before voters in November 2014. If nothing else, it figures to make for a more spirited election than the snoozer coming up next week.

You remembered that one, right?

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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