Taxing Sugar to Fund a City – 2nd Stage for Liverpool?
activematters comment | Liverpool city council is to start naming and shaming heavily sugared drinks, such as Lucozade and Coca-Cola, in a hard-hitting drive to warn parents about the health dangers they pose to their children.
Surely, taking it a stage further, rather than use ‘public money’ to address – these issues – tax them to fund ‘real’ change at a local level!
OVER the last decade or so, taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages have been proposed in a handful of American cities; they’ve failed all but once. Sometimes, this has been through a lack of governmental support — in 2009, David Paterson, then governor of New York, quickly gave up on his proposal for a tax — but mostly their advocates’ efforts have been overwhelmed by injections of cash from soda manufacturers and distributors.
Things changed 18 months ago, when a penny-per-ounce excise tax on soda and its relatives (heavily sweetened tea, sugar-added juices and so-called energy drinks) was approved by a 3-to-1 margin by voters in Berkeley, Calif. Conventional wisdom (and the soda industry) immediately labeled Berkeley a wacky anomaly. But in fact that East Bay university town is a harbinger: It was the first, or among the first, to voluntarily and intentionally desegregate schools, make sidewalks wheelchair accessible, establish a municipal recycling program and limit fast-food packaging and indoor smoking. Each of these was radical in its time, and all are now common — as I believe soda taxes will be five years from now.
in what is by some measures the country’s poorest big city, the tax is being billed as an anti-poverty initiative. Until now, every proposed soda tax has been sold first as a health measure; income from the tax has been secondary — destined for the general fund in Berkeley and, in Mexico, for establishing safe, free drinking water.
Mayor Kenney’s plan is different. The tax is being pitched as one that will pay for services for the city’s needy, and especially children — community schools, universal prekindergarten (which has overwhelming support), parks, recreation centers, libraries — rather than as one that will discourage people from consuming a damaging product. The health effects, of course, are equally beneficial, but Mayor Kenney and his allies maintain that there is simply no better way to raise this much-needed funding (an estimated $95 million annually) than to tax sugar-sweetened beverages.
“We are going to a source where there is substantial profit,” Mayor Kenney said to me in a phone interview last week, “and one that has the ability to take that hit and not skip a beat. They sell more of their product in poor communities than elsewhere, and for generations none of that profit was passed on to those communities. There is no downside to this other than that the three major soda companies may make a little less money.”