Once again, soda taxes have reached the November ballot in two California cities, Berkeley and San Francisco. Berkeley’s city leaders have chosen to place a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on the ballot; San Francisco’s measure attempts to levy a 2-cents-per-ounce tax. While called a “soda” tax, these measures would actually tax all beverages sweetened with sugar, including juices, iced teas, sports and energy drinks. For two liters of Coca-Cola, typically about $2.00 in a grocery store, Berkeley’s measure would raise the price by almost 70 cents; San Francisco’s would cost consumers an additional $1.35.
The opposition to taxing soda is remarkably robust since the issue aligns generally unaffiliated voting blocks: free-market, low-tax proponents and advocates for the impoverished. Soda taxes are regressive, burdening all individuals equally rather than proportionally based on income. Low-income families would be hit hardest by a soda tax because the additional cost of groceries would encompass a greater portion of their budgets.
These ballot measures may worry some soda drinkers, but supporters of the tax face an uphill battle. In 2012, the California cities of El Monte and Richmond tried to implement similar soda taxes of 1 cent per ounce through ballot measures. While voters in these cities overwhelmingly supported President Obama’s re-election, 76 percent of voters rejected the soda tax in El Monte and 67 percent rejected the tax in Richmond. The small town of Telluride, in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, voted down another soda tax last November, with 68 percent against the measure. Many cities and even some states have attempted to implement soda taxes, but none have been successful.
Fortunately for soda drinkers, restrictions are pushed by a small crowd and overwhelmingly disliked by the electorate. In 2010, the Washington State Legislature passed a tax on soda (along with bottled water and candy), but voters responded by getting an initiative on the ballot and overturning the tax. Even the courts of New York stopped former Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to limit the sale of large sodas to sixteen ounces. One soda-related measure did pass years ago in Ohio, but rather than creating a new tax, it amended the state constitution to prohibit any taxation of soda.
On November 4th, voters in Berkeley and San Francisco will decide whether drinking soda is a sin worth taxing. Each soda measure that will reach voters this fall will be featured on NTU’s upcoming Ballot Guide. Keep up with the fight against these measures and other attempts at nanny-state overreach on NTU.org.