In addition to the noisy campaign for president, in California we have propositions. Lots and lots of propositions. I have a love/hate relationship with the proposition process. I suspect most Californians feel the same way. On the one hand, propositions encourage direct democracy. The electorate has a say on issues ranging from taxes to insurance policy to health care to the criminal justice system. On the other hand, many propositions are thick treatises written in arcane language that even an attorney would have a hard time deciphering. People and corporations with lots of money use word salad propositions to push forward laws to enrich themselves at the expense of the public good. Meanwhile, good propositions that pass can be held up for years, because monied interests don’t want them to ever take effect.
Occasionally, Californians have had to wade through oodles of propositions on the ballot. This would be one of those years. We have 17 state propositions on the ballot. Additionally here in Oakland, home of the gar spot, we have 9 local measures to vote on: one from Alameda County, one from the Oakland Unified School District, five from the City of Oakland, and one each from the AC Transit District and BART.
With the election around the corner, as I wade through all of these various measures, I’ll write about some that catch my eye. Let’s start with Oakland’s Measure HH: A Proposed Ordinance Imposing A One Cent Per Ounce Tax on the Distribution of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Products in Oakland.
From the official write up by Barbara J. Parker, Oakland City Attorney:
This measure would impose a tax on the distribution of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Products in Oakland. Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Products are defined as Sugar-Sweetened Beverages or Caloric Sweeteners. The tax would be one cent per fluid ounce.
A new sin-tax, in other words, and frankly one that has been long in coming. Like traditional sin-tax products, tobacco and alcohol, sugary drinks can lead to poor health, in the form of diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, and other ailments. Treatment of these diseases can run into the billions of dollars. Sin-taxes try to discourage consumption of unhealthy products by increasing their costs. At the same time, they typically allocate the money raised to help promote better health. However, unlike traditional sin-taxes, Measure HH, should it pass, would not impact consumers directly. Rather, distributors would take the hit. Though in the end, the cost may get passed on to consumers.
Nonetheless, the American beverage industry — Coke, Pepsi, et al. — have declared an all-out war against taxes on sugary drinks. So far, they successfully have fought off such measures in every city it has been proposed, with one exception: Berkeley passed a soda tax in 2014. Not wanting to let this happen again, they have spent millions against Measure HH and similar measures in nearby San Francisco and Albany.
The beverage industry has labeled Measure HH, and its siblings, as a “grocery tax.” They contend that grocers will raise their prices on lots of items, not just sodas and sugary drinks. It’s a bogus argument that reeks of sensationalism. It does not pass my sniff test. Big Soda also claims that HH will hurt small businesses. Why do big corporations always align themselves with small businesses (that they usually ignore), as if they were all one big, happy business family? Again, this claim doesn’t pass the sniff test.
Big Soda’s claims also did not pass the court’s sniff test.
To date, nothing has shown that businesses in Berkeley have suffered from the soda tax. However, a study conducted by public health researchers at UC Berkeley have shown that the tax has curbed the purchase of sugary drinks in Berkeley by 21%. During the same period, consumption increased in Oakland and San Francisco by 4%. Also, water purchases have increased in Berkeley by 63%. And only 5% of people surveyed said that they get their sugary drinks in Oakland, where no such tax exists.
So from a public health standpoint, the tax works. It does what it sets out to do: curb the consumption of sugary beverages.
Big Soda doesn’t care about that, however. They just want to make money. So they will trump up any statistic, or just make stuff up, in order to defeat future soda taxes, including Oakland’s. They even have on their side Senator Bernie Sanders, who called soda taxes regressive. If they appear on the consumer’s bill, then yes, they could be called regressive. But Big Soda ignores the ill-effects of their products just like Big Tobacco does with their products. Again, they just want to make money.
I love sweets. I have a major sweet tooth. I’ve also had ups and downs with my weight most of my adult life. Sugar addiction is a thing, and it’s slowly killing us. Children should not develop Type 2 diabetes, formerly known as adult onset diabetes, but they do now and at an alarming rate. That was not a thing during my childhood. So clearly, as a society, we need to address this growing health menace.
The soda tax clearly demonstrates that it does. Therefore, Measure HH has my vote.