Upon hearing the news of the deal between the governor, state legislature and the beverage industry, one local official called it good news. I get it – the law proposed and qualified for the ballot by the beverage industry was a potential huge problem for local governments. The city would be looking down the barrel of its $9 million in sales tax revenue, needing a two-thirds rather than majority vote in 2020.
But we had to make a deal with the devil in order to avoid this disaster. A bad deal.
For 12 years now, we will not be able to pass a soda tax. That’s what the beverage industry wanted. They did a power play – they put $7 million into putting a proposition requiring all local tax measures pass with a two-thirds vote and the cities and other jurisdictions looked at the polls that showed this thing could pass and they caved.
I find it interesting that, as Mayor Robb Davis steps aside in the next week and a new council and mayor takes over, our state legislature, capitulating to the beverage industry, has killed any real chance of a soda tax.
I can hear his words still: “This is the public health crisis of our times.
“We’re talking about a broken food system,” he said referring to the policy and monetary interests that have created this problem. “Fundamentally broken. Overproducing sugar and the over-promotion through advertising and marketing. This is what we’re up against.”
We have a broken local political system when the council voted 3-2 not to put the measure on the ballot in 2016, arguing that there would be another time.
We have a broken state political system that bowed in the face of a threat from a well-financed industry that knew exactly where to apply the pressure point.
The connection to Davis is inescapable. The articles in the Sacramento Bee this week on this deal also had a link to the 2016 press conference where Robb Davis, former Mayor Ann Evans, and Delaine Eastin spoke out in favor of the local tax measure that has now been prohibited by this cynical deal.
One of our commenters asked yesterday: “What’s to stop some other group or industry from playing the same game for whatever benefit they can get out of it?”
The answer is of course absolutely nothing. It’s not *that* easy of course. The industry did put $7 million into it, which is a fairly high barrier to entry. You also need an issue that you are likely to win on and you can gain leverage.
“It’s almost as if state Democrats let the soda industry get away with blackmailing them.”
It’s not almost – it is. The state legislature and the governor completely capitulated here.
This is not only bad law, it is bad precedent. Why not put your resources into fighting it?
I read the memo from the Executive Director of the League of California Cities, who referred to this as the “Corporate Tax Trick” initiative. It was sponsored by the California Business Roundtable, with major funding from the American Beverage Association on behalf of large soda corporations.
They believed their opposition efforts to this bill had gained traction. But instead of bowing down to the beverage industry, why not expose them? Attack them for the cynical use of a ballot proposition in order to blackmail the legislature into banning soda taxes.
Why not attack the efforts of the soda industry, much as we have seen the tobacco industry under fire?
A few years ago when the Vanguard interviewed Dr. Harold Goldstein, he told us that the research suggests that the proliferation of sugar beverages over the last 40 years has greatly contributed to obesity problems. From 1977 to 2001, people consumed about 278 calories more and about 43 percent of those calories came from beverages.
He argued that consuming just one soda a day increases the risk of obesity by 50 percent and of diabetes by 30 percent.
In 2005, researchers SJ Nielsen and BM Popkin published a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. They looked at changes in beverage intake between 1977 and 2001 and found, for all age groups, “sweetened beverage consumption increased and milk consumption decreased. Overall, energy intake from sweetened beverages increased 135% and was reduced by 38% from milk, with a 278 total calorie increase.”
They conclude, “All lines of evidence consistently support the conclusion that the consumption of sweetened beverages has contributed to the obesity epidemic.”
And that is linked to serious health problems including diabetes.
“The challenge of sugar beverages is quite simple, they’re a delivery mechanism,” Robb Davis explained at a 2016 press conference. “They deliver fructose to the liver in probably the most efficient means of doing so. Quickly. And rather than being cleared by the liver, that sugar stays there and is turned into fat and that fat and the inhibition of fat burning that goes along with it, means that all the precursors of diabetes, heart disease and coronary artery disease – the genesis is occurring in that location.”
The beverage industry decided that they couldn’t wage that fight. So they picked another one – one that they could win.
But why not fight the proposition they threatened us with? Why not tell the voters, look, if you vote for this you will ensure that local government has no ability to raise money for roads and infrastructure. You will ensure that school districts have less ability to fund facilities bonds and parcel taxes. And you will allow an industry which was trying to leverage a protection against a soda tax to win.
If, at the end of the day, we could not convince the voters to turn away this cynical manipulation, then maybe we should re-think how we govern. Because what we did was wrong on so many levels, whether you agree with a beverage tax or not.
One of the ways we started beating the tobacco industry was the cigarette tax not only made purchasing the product more expensive, but it funded research and educational efforts. Diabetes and obesity are just as much of a public health threat as cigarettes, but the beverage industry was able to hand us a major defeat by taking away a major tool from us.
What makes it hurt worse is that we did it without even a fight.
—David M. Greenwald reporting