Santa Fe voters have rejected a 2 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks that would have raised nearly $8 million for expanded pre-K.
The tax was proposed and spearheaded by Santa Fe’s Mayor Javier Gonzales, placed onto the ballot by the City Council and supported by thousands of voters who wanted the revenue to be used to expand educational opportunities for the city’s low-income three and four year olds.
The loss offers up a rare win for the soda industry, which, in the last year, has seen sugary drink taxes pass in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, CA; Boulder, CO; Cook County, IL; and, Philadelphia, PA. The first sugary drink tax in the nation passed in Berkeley, CA in 2014.
“The deep-pocketed soda industry, once again, swept into a city trying to enact a sugary drink tax and worked overtime to derail the measure,” said Dr. Jim Krieger, executive director of Healthy Food America. “In this case, the American Beverage Association and other sugary drink tax opponents spent at least $1.6 million to oppose a bill that would have funded pre-K for close to 1,000 low income children in Santa Fe. Their campaign demonstrated that they would do or say anything to protect their profits, even if it means denying children in need, access to Pre-K."
Health advocates, including former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose funding helped pass soda taxes in Mexico, California, Pennsylvania and Colorado, contributed heavily to the Santa Fe pro-sugary drink tax campaign. The total donations made to both pro and anti-tax camps are estimated to be at least $3.3 million.
Sugary beverage taxes enacted around the nation are working well on several levels. In Philadelphia, tax revenue was $5.7 million for the city in January 2017, its first month. That was double the city's projection. February brought in $5.9 million and March will bring in at least $7 million in revenue. Philadelphia is using its beverage tax income to fund universal pre-K and other community projects.
A new study on Berkeley, California’s penny-per-ounce sugary drink tax, conducted by the Public Health Institute and the University of North Carolina, found that purchases of unhealthy sugary drinks were down by about 10 percent after just one year of the tax, while purchases of untaxed drinks were up by approximately 4%, driven by bottled water. The study also noted that average grocery bills did not increase, nor did grocery store revenue fall more in Berkeley compared to control cities.
“In the next few years, more and more cities and states will opt to recapture a fraction of the huge profits earned by the soda industry as it markets products that contribute to diabetes, obesity and heart disease,” said Krieger. “While this ballot measure was ultimately not successful, we know that sugary drink taxes will continue to grow in number across the nation and improve the public health of our country.”
Currently, local sugary drink taxes are under consideration in Seattle, WA and Multnomah County, OR. Lawmakers in West Virginia have been asked to increase the tax on sugary drinks to at least a penny-per-ounce. Budget negotiators are considering a tax in Illinois. Meanwhile, tax bills are under active consideration in state legislatures including Connecticut and Massachusetts. Additional cities and states are considering tax legislation for the coming year.
Photo Credit: Kyle Pfister, Ninjas for Health