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FAQs on Richmond's Sugar Drink Tax

Is this a tax on beverages and food like the ads say?

NO. It is a tax only on those beverages which have additional sugar sweetening added. It does not tax fruit juice or milk or carbonated water or diet drinks wothout added sugar. And sugar sweetened beverages are not food. They have no nutritional value other than calories and new research shows that they are toxic in large quantities especially for children.

Why do we need a tax?

The tax serves three purposes:

  1. It raises money for more athletic fields for kids and programs to fight childhood obesity and diabetes.
  2. The higher price discourages consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.
  3. Its existence helps stimulate the educational discussion about what is healthy for our kids and what does serious long term damage.

Can't we get the money for the fields and programs in some other way?

Unfortunately, the right-wing has succeeded in blocking action in the legislature and passing state-wide rules that limit the ways that we can raise money for things we need in the community. Schools are being squeezed and are even less likely to have the athletic or health programs our kids need. If want it for our kids now then we have to do it ourselves.

Soda is Not Food Isn't this a regressive tax?

Yes, we are only allowed to use regressive taxes to meet the community needs. A regressive tax is one that taxes the poor a greater amount in proportion to income and we support efforts to make the tax system fair. But in this case at least all the proceeds from the tax will go to helping those in the community who need the help most. The rich do not need public athletic fields - they can go to private clubs. Obesity and diabetes are hitting harder in poor and minority communities. Further, it is not a tax on necessities. If people cut their consumption of sugary drinks by just 20% they will pay no more. If they cut out sugary drinks totally they will save money, and be healthier.

How do we know that this money will go to athletic fields and programs to help the kids? Why doesn't the measure say this instead of putting the money in the general fund?

Again, the state rules require a 2/3 vote if the measure specifically designates where the money goes. This was passed as part of the infamous Proposition 13. We and most people who care for democracy oppose 2/3 rules for making basic decisions. Especially in the context of an unbalanced political field where the rich control the money available for campaigns, to allow 1/3 to block action by the overwhelming majority is especially undemocratic. A 2/3 vote is simply too high a bar for most decisions.

It is legal to do this by majority vote as we are doing here if the money goes into the general fund. To make sure that the money is spent as we want, a second advisory measure is on the ballot that specifies how it is to be spent.

But politicians could just spend the money as they want?

It's possible, but that is why you need to pay special attention to whom you elect. An elected official who does not take corporate campaign contributions will certainly follow the will of the people in this. Because there is a ballot measure and a campaign, the will of the people will be both clear and highly visible. And you can be certain by electing candidates who are pledged to these programs.

Won't people just go buy in other cities?

There will certainly be some of that. But we expect that other cities will join in. Movements start with someone going first and showing the way. Our kids are too important to wait for others to start doing something.

Won't this be an unfair burden on business?

The law provides that businesses can calculate how much sugar sweetened beverage is sold simply by comparing their inventories. Businesses will also have flexibility. For example they can decide to promote other beverages by putting them in more prominent positions in the store.



Bobby Bowens, Community Health Worker 

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