California Soda Tax Is a Budget Band-Aid

In a new study today, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) is promoting a penny-per-ounce “sin” tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Supporters of this nanny-state initiative anticipate it will generate nearly $2 billion annually. They claim the money will ultimately be spent combating childhood obesity and saving cash-strapped schools.

California lawmakers have been busy trying to plug a $25 billion budget hole this year, so this move comes as no surprise. Government and activist groups are targeting soft drinks under the guise of promoting public health, using real children as “poster children” to win public support. But if other excise taxes have taught us anything, it’s that money collected for specific health-related purposes are often diverted to practically any purpose other than the problem it was intended to solve.

A wealth of academic research demonstrates that taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages have no measurable effect on the waistlines of Americans. Lawmakers and health zealots have blamed Americans' growing waistlines squarely on soda, but according to research by the National Institutes of Health, soft drink consumption accounts for less than six percent of an average person’s daily calorie intake.

And the author of a recent study on soda tax effectiveness published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggested that people would likely switch to untaxed beverages with the same quantity of calories such as whole milk or fruit juice if sugar-sweetened beverages were taxed.

The proposed soft-drink tax is scheduled for a legislative committee hearing on Monday; it is expected to face universal opposition from Republicans. The Contra Costa Times explains that its passage would require two-thirds approval (meaning, practically, the support of at least four Republicans).

“Taxes shouldn’t be a tool for social engineering, or an instrument to penalize people for doing nothing wrong,” we warned Assemblyman Monning in February. “Taxing soda and other beverages is enormously unpopular for a reason. California politicians should cut down on their own spending binges instead of making citizens swallow this not-so-sweet tax.”

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