Supporters hope to keep second SF soda tax from going flat

San Francisco soda tax supporters are hoping round two of an effort to tax sugary beverages this November won’t fizzle out as the sugary drink levy movement grows throughout the U.S.

Boosted by funding from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a coalition of health professionals and supporters expressed confidence Thursday that voters will pass a 1 cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks this November — despite the failure of a similar measure in 2014.

Since that failed effort, Philadelphia became the second U.S. city last month to adopt a soda tax, at a rate of 1.5 cents per ounce. Berkeley was the first U.S. city to adopt a soda tax, at 1 cent per ounce, in 2014.

San Francisco may join the club this November with a 1 cent soda tax placed on the ballot by Supervisor Malia Cohen with the support of Supervisors Scott Wiener, Mark Farrell and Eric Mar. Oakland and Albany, NY, have also placed soda taxes on the November ballot.

“This is a measure that is of urgent nature,” Cohen said during a required informational hearing on her measure before the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee Thursday. “It is a matter of life and death.”

The American Beverage Association spent $10 million to defeat San Francisco’s 2 cent soda tax measure in 2014 and argued improving health shouldn’t be about targeting one industry nor should The City exacerbate the cost-of-living with a tax.

The beverage association has spent $345,000 against the November measure as of June 16 through the No SF Grocery Tax Campaign.

“The tax will force mom and pop grocers to absorb the costs themselves or pass them on to consumers in the form of higher prices,” campaign spokesperson Joe Arellano wrote in an email to the San Francisco Examiner, echoing the 2014 opposition.

The political committee supporting the measure, San Franciscans Untied to Reduce Diabetes in Children, has raised $238,000, including $150,000 from Bloomberg.

“Many people have called this a regressive tax and will continue to do so,” Cohen said. “By regressive, I mean that it impacts poor communities and to be honest it does. This tax definitely affects those folks at the bottoms.”

She added, “But I am also here to say that regressive diseases like Type 2 diabetes also disproportionately affect people at the bottom.”

The number of soda tax proposals seemingly signals a shift in thinking among politicians and the electorate. Just four years ago, Richmond voters rejected a soda tax placed on the ballot through the efforts of then-Richmond City Councilman Jeff Ritterman.

“The science is no longer in doubt. When we did the Richmond measure it was a little more shaky but now it is clear: liquid sugar is what’s behind the Type 2 diabetes epidemic,” Ritterman said. “Science is now ahead of the public perception. If we can line up the public perception with the science we can save a lot of lives.”
Supervisor Scott Wiener predicted the soda tax will pass this year.

In 2014, San Francisco’s soda tax measure received 56 percent of the vote, but failed because it required two-thirds voter approval since since the tax revenue was dedicated for specific services. The measure going before voters in November requires a simple majority since it is a general tax.

“We know where the people of San Francisco stand on this,” Wiener said. “I know that it is going to happen this time.”

The tax would generate about $14.4 million annually.

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