Is a Statewide Soda Tax Next in California?

Dental and medical groups file for ballot measure

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Less than a week after the state adopted a measure to ban soda taxes on a local government level, the California Dental Association (CDA) and the California Medical Association (CMA) have jointly filed a ballot measure to enact a statewide tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and overturn the municipal ban.

The filing, which would put the initiative on the November 2020 state ballot, comes four days after state officials folded to pressure from the American Beverage Association. The ABA had threatened a ballot measure for this November that would have raised the voter threshold to approve local sales tax increases on any item, not just drinks, from a majority vote to a difficult-to-achieve supermajority (two-thirds) vote. The ABA withdrew the measure after the state legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown adopted the municipal ban on soda taxes.

Now, the 2020 ballot initiative by CDA and CMA would implement a statewide tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, skirting the municipal ban, and reinstate the ability of California’s local communities to make their own decisions regarding future soda taxes.

"Big Soda may have won a cynical short-term victory, but for the sake of our children’s health, we cannot and will not allow them to undermine California’s long-term commitment to healthcare and disease prevention," Dustin Corcoran, CMA CEO, and Carrie Gordon, CDA chief strategy officer, said in a statement. "There is overwhelming evidence of the link between obesity, diabetes, tooth decay and heart disease and the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, energy drinks, sweet teas and sports drinks."

The CDA/CMA press release does not define the amount of the proposed state tax. However, it says the tax would raise at least $1.7 billion in revenue, funding that would be put toward health programs in the state.

The municipal bill signed by Brown on June 28 banned local taxes on beverages for 12 years. California jurisdictions that have already imposed sugar-sweetened beverage taxes, including Albany, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, are allowed to maintain the taxes and are not affected by the statewide bill.

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