POLITICS

California Reluctantly Bans New Soda Taxes In Face Of Industry Threat

Beverage lobbyists have successfully maneuvered a 12-year block on the health effort.

California, the state that has passed more local sugary beverage taxes than any other, has reluctantly banned any new ones for the next 12 years after a shakedown from beverage lobbyists spooked lawmakers. 

The legislation Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed Friday prevents new taxes on any groceries until 2031 but is squarely aimed at the so-called soda taxes currently under consideration in four California cities ― and at the likelihood that more cities would also take a cue from Berkeley, which sparked a trend when it passed the nation’s first soda tax in 2014 to combat the health threats posed by sugary drinks. 

But the lawmakers who introduced the latest legislation weren’t going after soda taxes; they were looking for a way to combat a ballot measure backed by beverage interest groups.

In response to the soda taxes up for consideration, Brown explained in his decision Friday, “the beverage industry has circulated a far reaching initiative that would, if passed, raise the approval threshold from 50% to two-thirds on all measures, on all topics in all 482 cities” in California. The proposal alarmed mayors from “countless cities,” Brown said, and forced his hand on the bill.

The California Business Roundtable has since withdrawn that ballot measure, NBC News reported,

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D), who voted against the tax ban legislation but said he respects his colleagues who supported it, didn’t hold back in excoriating the beverage industry, whose political maneuvering over this amounts to holding the legislature hostage.

San Francisco, one of the cities Wiener represents, is one of a handful of California cities with soda taxes already in place. The legislation signed Friday will allow that taxation to continue. 

With the beverage industry’s expensive campaigns against soda taxes in cities like San Francisco proving unreliable, techniques like the one used with this ballot measure may become more common as the soda tax trend spreads nationwide, The New York Times wrote this week. 

In an open letter to the governor on Tuesday, American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said she hoped he would prioritize the health consequences connected to soda consumption, which studies show may have a dangerous effect on the body unmatched by other sugary items.

“These companies profit from sugary drinks ― the leading source of added sugar in the American diet ― and they spend millions of dollars marketing them to California kids,” she wrote. “I have to tell you, I was shocked by reports that you would secretly negotiate such a deal to take away the ability of Californians to raise revenue that funds important community priorities and to help fight heart disease, stroke and diabetes.”