Full-Court Press on Soda Tax

SodaTax

Last week, Dr. Harold Goldstein, speaking during public comment, asked that the council “consider” putting a soda tax on the ballot in June, noting a “worldwide movement to begin taxing sugary drinks.”

“The main reason is that sugary drinks have no positive health benefit,” he said. He held up a jar of sugar demonstrating how much one jar of sugar a day would be a on weekly basis. “One twenty ounce soda has 16 teaspoons of sugar,” he said, noting that sugar beverages are a leading contributor to obesity and diabetes.

He noted that part of the problem is that the body absorbs the sugar through liquid in as little as 30 minutes. The glucose, he explained, “overwhelms the pancreas whose job is to balance (the body’s) sugar levels. The fructose turns to fat in (the) liver. The combination of burned out pancreas and fatty liver is what causes diabetes.

“One-quarter of teenagers in this country now have diabetes or pre-diabetes,” he said. He added that his center will be releasing a report in the coming of months showing that a majority of Californians have diabetes or pre-diabetes.

“The benefit of a soda tax, as proven in Berkeley, the first city in the country to pass it, is you get to reduce consumption by raising the price and you get money as revenue that you can use to mitigate the harms caused by those products – so it is a win-win,” he continued. “It counteracts the beverage industries’ marketing. They’re spending half a billion dollars a year marketing to kids with taglines like ‘live for today’ as though teenagers need more encouragement to live for today.”

This weekend he was joined by Former State Superintendent of Schools Delaine Eastin and Helen Thomson, a former County Supervisor and Assemblymember who spoke briefly on Tuesday as well.

They note that a group of Davis parents, business owners, health-care providers, elected officials and community leaders have asked the city council to put a sugary drink tax on the June ballot.

The initiative, they say, “would be an easily implemented per-ounce tax on beverage distributors that would raise as much as $2 million annually to refurbish city facilities and programs that have contracted or crumbled during our recent fiscal downturn.

“With our proposed framework,” they argue, “the revenue’s specific allocation would meet the shifting needs of our community through the advice of our Social Services Commission and Recreation & Parks Commission, or some other mechanism that ensures thorough public input and guidance.”

Adding to the reputation of Davis as a bike capital of the nation, “we soon can be known for tackling one of the greatest modern-day public health threats: obesity and diabetes.

“Why focus on sugary beverages?” they ask. “We all know that the sugar in Coke, Pepsi, Gatorade and Monster is bad for us. But many people are not aware of how uniquely harmful these beverages are. Organizations from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association to the American Medical Association all consider these beverages to be health threats and support sugary drink taxes.

“What makes sugary drinks ‘uniquely harmful’?” they ask. “Sodas, sports drinks, vitamin waters, sweet teas and fruity drinks are the single largest sources of the added sugars we consume each day. One 20-ounce soda has 16 teaspoons of sugar. Imagine putting that much sugar in your morning coffee. Imagine having your kids put that much sugar on their morning cereal!

“We’ve all seen the increases in soda can and bottle sizes over the past few decades,” they write. “Now we are starting to experience the consequences: a dramatic rise in diabetes and fatty liver disease. A quarter of teens are now pre-diabetic or have ‘adult-onset’ diabetes — not surprising, given that two-thirds of teens drink one or more sugary beverages every day.”

They note, “We are currently raising the first generation of kids who could be outlived by their parents. The scientific evidence is damning. It shows unequivocally that guzzling liquid sugar is killing people.”

They acknowledge that the soda tax “is not the silver bullet.” But they argue that soda taxes will “over time… lower sugary drink consumption.” At the same time, “They raise a significant amount of money to fund desperately needed diabetes and obesity prevention programs.”

They offer proof in the form of Mexico’s first enacted national soda tax in 2013. They write, “At the end of the first tax year, sugary drink consumption dropped 12 percent. Our neighbors in Berkeley followed suit, passing a tax initiative last year with 76 percent support. Their tax generates $120,000 a month for children’s health-related programs.”

They note that “fifty years ago, when scientists showed that smoking tobacco led to heart attacks and lung cancer, public health experts worked tirelessly to inform people of the dangers and tax tobacco sales. Smoking rates dropped dramatically.

“We now face a similar health crisis because of sugar-loaded beverages,” they write. “Let’s make Davis a national leader in making sure children live long and healthy lives. A tax on sugary drinks in the city of Davis won’t eliminate the problem of people consuming too many sugary drinks overnight. But it’s a much-needed start that will indeed be heard around the world.

“If Davis were to adopt a sugary drink tax, the revenue raised could fund a variety of obesity and diabetes prevention programs. Whether it’s the development of safe places to play, support of after-school recreational programs, expanded farm-to-school/nutrition education programs or the maintenance of city parks and pools, it makes all the sense in the world to fund community enhancements with a tax on sugary beverages,” they continue.

They conclude, “And after Davis passes a tax, other places are sure to follow our lead.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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42 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    I know that some of you do not like taxes as a matter of principle. I do not share this perspective, but I do understand it. A tax on sugary beverages however would seem to me to be a place where we could find agreement due to a number of factors.

    1. It does not tax anything that is necessary for an individual to have. The taxed item has no nutritional or health benefits.

    2. It is not a ban. The item will still be readily available and it will remain up to each individual to decide if the increased cost is worth it to them.

    3. The tax will affect  disproportionately those who demographically have been shown to be at highest risk of the unfortunate side effects of its usage. So, disproportionate harm from the product, disproportionate cost to society in terms of both short and long term health costs ( diabetics are more susceptible to infection and thus cost us more in ER visits in the short term), and yes, disproportionate cost burden to those on the lower end of the economic scale.

    4. It not only raises revenue in the short term, it has the potential to save large amounts of money n the long term in terms of medical costs. Even a very small reduction in usage can have major impacts in the long term medical costs. This alone should appeal to you fiscal conservatives.

    5.What about the dreaded “bait and switch” written about so widely in terms of taxation. I see this as a “no harm done” tax. No one “needs” these products. Any decrease in usage would create no “material harm”and would do much”material good”. There is no deprivational harm involved here. So if the revenue raised by such a tax is used for any purpose of benefit to the community or members thereof I would applaud.

    1. Topcat

      I see this as a “no harm done” tax. …. So if the revenue raised by such a tax is used for any purpose of benefit to the community or members thereof I would applaud.

      There is another factor that has not been discussed, and that is that if the price of goods in Davis are taxed at a higher rate than surrounding communities, it gives people an incentive to shop out of Davis.  I’m not saying that someone will travel to Woodland to by a single can of Coca-Cola; however when considering where to go for a major shopping trip, if the costs of similar items are higher in Davis, it provides more incentive to shop elsewhere.

      While it may sound appealing to try to generate more local tax revenue, it may result in some people increasing their out of Davis shopping trips.  So perhaps this is not so much as a “no harm done” tax as people might be led to believe.

      1. Barack Palin

        This has been discussed.  My wife is a huge diet Coke drinker and I buy it mostly at local Safeways.  We also make at least one monthly trip to Costco.  If this tax ever gets implemented we will for sure buy it all at Costco.  How many others will do the same?

         

        1. Alan Miller

          I’m sure.  The cake, then pie,  then meat . . .

          I eat fairly healthy, encourage others to, and am appalled by our society’s values around food consumption.  A soda tax is not a solution, it’s insanity.

    2. Matt Williams

      Tia has done an excellent job of summing up the “Pro” arguments. Anyone want to create a similar summarization of the “Con” arguments? O, alternatively in the spirit of the League of Women Voters, create a rebuttal argument for each of Tia’s five points?

  2. Barack Palin

    The loony far left voters of San Francisco came to their senses and voted down a soda tax measure.  Will the voters of Davis send a strong message to our council to stop the paternalism if they ever try and put a soda tax on our ballot?

  3. Tia Will

    BP

    So how is it “paternalism” to request a vote ?

    I believe that yours has been amongst the voices calling for fiscal responsibility. And yet you are rejecting even the opportunity to vote on a potentially revenue generating measure because of your personal ideology. This I am not understanding.

      1. Tia Will

        BP

        I consider fiscal responsibility to be not spending more than we have while achieving our agreed upon goals. I would be interested in hearing others ideas on what “fiscal responsibility” means to them since BP and I obviously are not using the term the same way.

        1. Barack Palin

          Obviously by my post above stating that SF voters shot it down.  Our council will make the final decision to put it to ballot and we have local politicians pushing it.

      2. Alan Miller

         

        “I’m a Democrat and I happen to like taxes. I think they have a purpose. We are a democratic society and taxes can do good things for people.” — Helen Thomson

        Helen Thomson reinforces why I quit the Democrat Party over 30 years ago.
         

    1. hpierce

      How much money will it cost to put a measure on the ballot?  If it passes, will the proceeds first be used to pay the costs of putting the measure on the ballot?  Costs of enforcement/processing? If it does not pass, where are the costs paid from?  What is the fiscally responsible course of action?

  4. Sam

    “Adding to the reputation of Davis as a bike capital of the nation”

    “We all know that the sugar in Coke, Pepsi, Gatorade and Monster is bad for us.”

    The main issue I have with this new tax is that somehow this Dr. is now the one that gets to determine what is “good” and “bad” for me.

    Funny that he should mention cycling and Gatorade. In my opinion drinking Gatorade while you cycle is a good thing, but the Dr. has now determined that it is bad and its consumption should be discouraged.

  5. Mark West

    Sam:  “In my opinion drinking Gatorade while you cycle is a good thing, but the Dr. has now determined that it is bad and its consumption should be discouraged.”

    Gatorade was developed to help professional athletes continue performing at a high level during a competition.  The original recipe was not as sweet as the current version and used sucrose instead of fructose as the sweetener (sucrose being the better source of energy).

    The specific target was a professional football player needing to replenish electrolytes and energy during halftime, after playing most of the first half.  Consuming sports drinks to assist recovery during and following strenuous physical activity is the appropriate use of the product, however drinking water works just as well in most cases (Water also does not have the negative health effects that come from consuming high fructose corn syrup). Consuming sports drinks while sitting on the bench, or in the stands watching others perform the strenuous physical activity, is not an appropriate use.  Giving your little league or soccer player sports drinks before, during or after a game is ill-advised at best.

     

    1. Sam

      For me, I find that water does not work just as well as Gatorade for longer rides (20+ miles) in warmer weather (85+). But the Dr. has determined that purchasing it should be discouraged because I might give it to my kids while they sit in the stands at a game?

      I would rather not have someone make or alter personal decisions for me, or anyone else. I would rather keep the option to make them on my own, even choosing obvious dumb ones every once in a while if I want to.

  6. Anon

    Does anyone remember the days when margarine was touted as better for you than butter?  New studies have shown just the opposite.  Bottom line, moderation in everything you eat should be the order of the day.

    I don’t think a tax on soda will change eating habits one iota, and it sets the stage for the local gov’t to decide what else it thinks we shouldn’t eat and tax anything they can think of as another source of revenue.  This sort of taxing to drum up revenue resulted in MD passing a “rain tax”.

    I don’t want the gov’t deciding what is or is not good for me to eat – they can’t get most things right.  They can do research, and advise me what they “think” is correct – but it could change later down the road w further research.  I am not in favor of the nanny state, nor thinking up new ways to tax people to drum up tax revenue that has no connection to what is being taxed.

    Seems to me the promise was the ordinance to offer healthy drinks as the main choice in restaurants was as far as the city was willing to go.  The next thing we hear is the city wants to institute a tax on soda. What’s next?  We have a plastic bag ban, a cost of paper bags.  If a new tax on soda is instituted, what will be targeted next, because there will be a next?  A special tax on all processed food, because it contains fats, salt and sugar, among other things deemed harmful by the gov’t?  Really?

  7. Frankly

    Let’s walk though the fact pattern here.

    City politicians have given away the store to city employees.

    Then when we started to have problems lacking the funds to cover the fat compensation commitments, new city politicians robbed from the road and maintenance funds to cover the gaps.

    Now the road and building are crumpling and the politicians need a new source of money to pay for the needed repairs.

    So they increase the sales tax.

    But then they again spend that on a 3% COLA for city employees.

    So now they need even more tax increases.

    And they get creative with a new sin tax on sugary drinks.

    Because, of course, there is a moral argument for taxing sugary drinks that can mask the true interest and intent of the tax.   And then there are folks like Dr. Save-Everyone-From-Their-Own-Bad-Choices-In-Life (aka, Tia Will) that help with that masking.  But then here it is clearly admitted what the true purpose and intent of the new tax is for.

    The initiative, they say, “would be an easily implemented per-ounce tax on beverage distributors that would raise as much as $2 million annually to refurbish city facilities and programs that have contracted or crumbled during our recent fiscal downturn.

    If we are going to justify the tax based on health concerns of the residents, then all of the money derived should be used for improving residents’ health.

    1. Barack Palin

      Add to that Frankly, further compensation to be given out to firefighters and other city employees but some will claim that money did not come from the soda tax that all went into the same pot, the general fund.

    2. Michael Harrington

      Frankly wrote:

      “Let’s walk though the fact pattern here.

      City politicians have given away the store to city employees.

      Then when we started to have problems lacking the funds to cover the fat compensation commitments, new city politicians robbed from the road and maintenance funds to cover the gaps.

      Now the road and building are crumpling and the politicians need a new source of money to pay for the needed repairs.

      So they increase the sales tax.

      But then they again spend that on a 3% COLA for city employees.

      So now they need even more tax increases.

      And they get creative with a new sin tax on sugary drinks.

      Because, of course, there is a moral argument for taxing sugary drinks that can mask the true interest and intent of the tax.   And then there are folks like Dr. Save-Everyone-From-Their-Own-Bad-Choices-In-Life (aka, Tia Will) that help with that masking.  But then here it is clearly admitted what the true purpose and intent of the new tax is for.

      The initiative, they say, “would be an easily implemented per-ounce tax on beverage distributors that would raise as much as $2 million annually to refurbish city facilities and programs that have contracted or crumbled during our recent fiscal downturn.

      If we are going to justify the tax based on health concerns of the residents, then all of the money derived should be used for improving residents’ health.”  End.

      Frankly:  Very nicely put!  Pass this general fund tax and you know this CC is going to turn around and give it to the employees, again.

      If we absolutely need more revenue, then use the parcel tax, with details on specific projects it will fund.  The DJUSD has done it this way for years, and quite successfully.  They have passed some BIG parcel taxes that had zero chance without the track record of being spent on specific projects described in the ballot measure.

      I could see a parcel tax to be spent mostly on road repairs, and some on remodeling city buildings (ie, those poor planners are STILL stuck in that “temporary” trailer) , and some on pool restorations (ie, Civic and Community Pools).  But there would have to be an anti-backfill provision to stop staff from ending current GF money to some of those things, and then giving the money to staff for raises.  Without an anti-backfill provision (for want of a better term), I would work against the parcel tax.

      Thank you, Frankly, for your excellent analysis.

    3. Tia Will

      Frankly

      If we are going to justify the tax based on health concerns of the residents, then all of the money derived should be used for improving residents’ health.”

      I have no problem at all with this suggestion.

    4. Paul Thober

      I am stunned! For once I agree with Frankly. Thank you, sir, for presenting an argument mostly devoid of partisan and ad hominen attacks. The pointless swipe at Dr. Will is the only slip I see. More fact based posts and less weird right wing ranting and I may start reading what you have to say.

  8. Frankly

    1. It does not tax anything that is necessary for an individual to have. The taxed item has no nutritional or health benefits.

    Individuals do not need to have a core area one-story bungalow on a large lot when there are so many low income residents suffering from too high rents and other people have to live on the periphery and drive into the core area to shop and thus spew more carbon into the air.  We should implement a poor-use-of-land tax all low-density core residential properties.

    2. It is not a ban. The item will still be readily available and it will remain up to each individual to decide if the increased cost is worth it to them.

    Again, we will not ban poor-use-of-space either.

    3. The tax will affect  disproportionately those who demographically have been shown to be at highest risk of the unfortunate side effects of its usage. So, disproportionate harm from the product, disproportionate cost to society in terms of both short and long term health costs ( diabetics are more susceptible to infection and thus cost us more in ER visits in the short term), and yes, disproportionate cost burden to those on the lower end of the economic scale.

    The poor-use-of-land tax will affect disproportionately only those who demographically have been shown to be at the highest risk to misuse valuable core area space.

    4. It not only raises revenue in the short term, it has the potential to save large amounts of money n the long term in terms of medical costs. Even a very small reduction in usage can have major impacts in the long term medical costs. This alone should appeal to you fiscal conservatives.

    It would raise revenue for the city, and dissuade valuable core area land-hording, and would cause some lots to become available for densification which would appeal to both conservatives and honest liberals.

    5.What about the dreaded “bait and switch” written about so widely in terms of taxation. I see this as a “no harm done” tax. No one “needs” these products. Any decrease in usage would create no “material harm”and would do much”material good”. There is no deprivational harm involved here. So if the revenue raised by such a tax is used for any purpose of benefit to the community or members thereof I would applaud.

    Increased taxation always harms people that pay the tax.  But of course this is the “greater good” moral argument.  The same goes for freeing up valuable downtown land that can be used to densify the core area and help provide more rental housing in this city without adequate rental housing.  And it will help reduce the miles driven and reduce carbon emissions.

    1. Eric Gelber

      Increased taxation always harms people that pay the tax.

      Seriously, Frankly? People who pay taxes don’t benefit from the state, local and federal services made possible by taxes (fire, police, military, retirement, health care, education, infrastructure, etc. etc.)? If you define “harm” as having to pay for benefits and services without considering what you (or society) get in return, I guess you are right. But I’m not sure what you would suggest as the alternative (other than decimating services other people rely on). Absolute positions, such as “all tax increases are harmful,” are neither credible nor realistic.

      1. Frankly

        First point is that I object to your new icon/image.  It makes me feel unsafe.

        Second, you are conflating harm and benefits.  Taxation always causes harm to those that have to pay it.  Benefits are the secondary consideration.

        But look at it this way, I am paying tax increases to get benefit increases?

        No.

        I am being forced to pay a higher rate of taxation only to prevent my overlords from reducing the benefits previously funded by the old tax rate.

        We are talking tax “increases” not just taxation.

        Sure I get benefits in return for the taxes I pay.   But we are not talking about paying more taxes for more benefits.  We are talking about paying more taxes only to retain those benefits we were supposed to have already funded but instead had that funding taken and misused to pay-off public-sector unions and employee groups that funded political campaigns of the people taking and misusing the money.

    2. Tia Will

      Frankly

      We should implement a poor-use-of-land tax all low-density core residential properties.”

      I am ok with that as long as it does not price anyone out of their home and as long as it is used to provide affordable housing, not to benefit a developer or investors who clearly already have sufficient funds or they would not be investing.

      The poor-use-of-land tax will affect disproportionately only those who demographically have been shown to be at the highest risk to misuse valuable core area space.”

      “Mis use of space” is subjective. Diabetes is not.

      It would raise revenue for the city, and dissuade valuable core area land-hording, and would cause some lots to become available for densification which would appeal to both conservatives and honest liberals.”

      See my response to #1

      Increased taxation always harms people that pay the tax.”

      I simply do not agree with this statement. Let’s say that someone is a multimillionaire or billionaire. Please tell me how they are materially harmed by a tax that in no way substantially changes their lifestyle. I just don’t buy that they are being victimized or injured in any way.

      1. Frankly

        Well you take my work “harm” and then use “material harm” and change the scope of the argument.

        Taxes have consequences.  You don’t seem to get that.  Do you know what the Laffer Curve is?

        You can afford a bungalow tax, can all your neighbors?

        1. Tia Will

          Frankly

          Well you take my work “harm” and then use “material harm” and change the scope of the argument.”

          I was only using the standard that you have set in many posts in which you have asserted that only material harm counts. Everything else is based on emotion which you do not seem to feel counts, unless of course you feel it makes your case.

          Taxes have consequences.  You don’t seem to get that.  Do you know what the Laffer Curve is?”

          Of course taxes have consequences, some good and some bad. I simply do not believe your assertion that “increased taxation always harms people who pay the tax”. It may harm some, some may barely perceive a change, and some may actually feel that they are benefitting if they approve of what the revenue is spent on. Thus, the word “always ” in your assertion is simply not true. I do know what the Laffer Curve is. And I consider it a construct, not a law of nature or proclamation of God. I realize that may seem like blasphemy to you, but like most constructs it has its adherents and those who see it differently.

          You can afford a bungalow tax, can all your neighbors?”

          Probably not. But as I have said many, many times, I would be willing to chip in to a fund to help those who truly could not afford it. Don’t you remember any of the occasions on which I have said this ?  Really ?

  9. Michael Harrington

    I don’t have a problem taxing soda drinks.

    I do have a problem saying they will use the money for health improvements or kids or parks, then “stealing” the GF money and giving it to employee compensation enrichment, like Saylor and Souza did in 2005.  “Stealing” is 100% the correct word.

    What’s funny is many of the same politicians who were owned by the Davis FF in 2004-05 came down to support this latest gimmick to add GF money for employee compensation.

    So if they want to tax soda, make it a specific tax adopted by 2/3rds of the votes cast.  If these politicos wont make it a specific tax, then the only conclusion I can draw is that the soda tax “for the health of our children” is really just a GF tax to pay employees, because that is EXACTLY where it will go.

  10. Don Shor

    Wait a minute. “As much as $2 million a year”? Berkeley taxes soda at a penny per ounce. Let’s see. 2,000,000 dollars = 200,000,000 pennies. 200 million ounces? 128 oz. in a gallon. That’s 1,562,500 gallons a year! 23.6 gallons each year for each of the 66,205 residents (2013 data).

    Holy corn syrup, Batman, that’s a lot of soda! Davis residents buy that much soda locally?

  11. Alan Miller

    Q: Diet coke isn’t a sugary drink.  Is it taxed?  What about my summertime suicide at 7-11?

    A: Alan, you may be right, Bezerkeley didn’t tax diet sodas.

    OK, so if this is true, what about suicides?  For those who don’t know, that’s when you mix several different drinks at the soda dispenser.  “Is that a sugary soda sir?” — “Well, about 27% is.” — “Let me get out my calculator”.

    1. Barack Palin

      Suicides, I used to make those as a kid at Snyder’s Resort in Lake Berryessa.  I thought it was our own special name and drink, I now know I was wrong.

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