Big Berkeley Battle in the National Soda Tax War

Friday, September 12, 2014
(photo: Associated Press)

In what may be the biggest battle yet in the fight to pass a tax on soft drinks, voters in Berkeley will decide in November whether to adopt a one-cent-per-fluid-ounce tax on soda companies.

But the industry, which has successfully defeated every soda tax effort in the country so far, is determined to keep Berkeley from becoming the first community to take this big step.

University of California, Berkeley professor of public policy Robert Reich, a former Clinton administration Secretary of Labor, wrote on his blog: “If a soda tax can’t pass in the most progressive city in America, it can’t pass anywhere. Big Soda knows that, which is why it’s determined to kill it here.”

Proponents of soda taxes who support Measure D on the November ballot want to reduce the consumption of such drinks, saying they have become a problem for public health and increasing rates of obesity.

Companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi loathe the tax idea. They saw what taxes on cigarettes have done to discourage customers from buying their product, which is why they are expected to spend heavily to convince Berkeley voters to reject the ballot measure.

A week ago, opponents of the ballot measure convinced Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo to change its wording, substituting the language “sugar sweetened beverages” for “high-calorie, sugary drinks.”    

The No on D campaign has not revealed who its backers are, only stating that it is made up of “a coalition of citizens, local businesses, and community organizations.” However, the group’s website states that the American Beverage Association has provided it with $300,000 in “major funding.”

Support for the plan is strong, according to Reich, who notes that a Field Poll (pdf) conducted in February showed 67% of California voters favor taxing sodas to fund health programs.

In addition to Berkeley, San Francisco is also considering the adoption of a soda tax. But in the latter’s case, the measure will require two-thirds of voters to back it, while Berkeley’s plan needs only a simple majority.

–Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Berkeley vs. Big Soda (Robert Reich)

Judge Changes Berkeley “Soda Tax” Ballot Language (by Emilie Raguso, Berkeleyside)

Berkeley v. Big Soda

Judge Tones Down Soda Tax Ballot Language (by Tom Lochner, Contra Costa Times)

Legal Battle over Wording of Soda Tax Ballot Measure in Berkeley (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)

California’s Sugar High Costs It Hundreds of Millions for Healthcare (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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