By Bob Achermann.
If a soda tax passed in Berkeley, California and no one became healthier, would it matter? Not to the activists nationally who rail against sweetened beverages.
Earlier this year, at the National Soda Summit in Washington, D.C., one of the main proponents of soda taxes, Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told a reporter with Politico that federal legislation introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro to tax sugar-sweetened beverages wasn’t likely to pass then added, “but I think it’ll get some press coverage.” And that’s the point.
Berkeley is getting a lot of press coverage for passing a tax on sweetened beverages, despite the fact that the city has little in common with the rest of California, much less hometowns across America. But Berkeley didn’t need to pass a tax on sweetened beverages to prove that point.
Berkeley has a long history of imposing measures that make the rest of America cringe – like an official city letter issued in 2008 to the local Marine Corps recruiting center stating that the U.S. Marines were “uninvited and unwelcome guests” in their city. The City Council further made their anti-military feelings known by encouraging local citizens to non-violently “impede, passively or actively,” the work of the recruiters.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the Council issued an exclusive permit to the notorious anti-war protest organization, Code Pink, allowing them to protest directly in front of the Marine recruitment center for four hours one day a week for six months.
Far less dubious, though no less off-the-wall, are actions in Berkeley to mandate that local marijuana dispensaries give away free pot to the poor and homeless. Mayors and city councils outside of Berkeley aren’t jumping on that bandwagon of one.
So why did Berkeley succeed in doing what even voters in San Francisco, a city that banned free toys in Happy Meals, couldn’t stomach, and what does it mean?
A recent analysis of partisan voter registration published in the Sacramento Bee found that Berkeley is three times as liberal as San Francisco. It’s also whiter, wealthier and has more PhDs.
In addition to San Francisco, more than 30 states and cities have failed to pass taxes on sweetened beverages.
In 2008, the state legislature in Maine passed a tax on sweetened beverages, only to watch helplessly as voters overturned the tax that same year by a vote of 65 – 35 percent. Two years later, Washington State’s legislature made a similar move, and once again voters took matters into their own hands with a referendum. Sixty percent of voters that year overturned the legislature’s ill-fated tax.
Given the overwhelming opposition to singling out sweetened beverages for a discriminatory tax scheme, it’s fair to conclude that what Berkeley did on November 4 doesn’t mean much to rest of the country.
If there’s another city in America that has shown disdain for U.S. Marine Corps and mandated free marijuana, perhaps that city will follow in the footsteps of Berkeley.
But don’t count on it. There’s only one Berkeley.
Robert J. Achermann, JD is the Executive Director of the California/Nevada Soft Drink Association. He has worked in government relations and association management since 1978. He has been involved in taxation and fee issues regarding products and services, solid waste and recycling of beverage containers and medical data confidentiality restrictions. He has also worked on legislation and regulations pertaining to licensing and regulation of entities and professionals under the Department of Consumer Affairs, health care reform, physician referrals, clinical laboratories, hazardous waste handling and disposal, Proposition 65, and radiation control. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from California State University, Sacramento, and his Juris Doctor from the McGeorge School of Law. He is a member of the California Bar Association.