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Council all but kills soda tax

A majority of D.C. Council members signaled their opposition Thursday to a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on soda, probably killing the proposal.

During a budget negotiations Thursday, council members battled for more than an hour over the proposal. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) is pushing for the tax, which would apply to soda with sugar but not to diet soda, as a way to combat childhood obesity while funding a new initiative to require city schools to serve healthier food.

"This is the single most significant, meaningful thing you can do for this problem," Cheh said. "We can be a leader here. We can improve health and wellness."

In recent weeks, the soda industry has mounted an expensive campaign to derail the proposal, airing radio and newspaper ads against it. The industry has partnered with dozens of local grocers and restaurants. Health advocates, however, responded with their own media and lobbying campaign. Actor Morgan Freeman, for example, called several council members Wednesday to try to rally support for the bill.

But council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) launched a ferocious assault on the proposal today.

Thomas, armed with bottles of Gatorade, argued that the proposal was too confusing because it would also apply to some sports drinks and protein shakes.

"This is a 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade," said Thomas, a little league sports coach. "So if I take this 20 ounce bottle and the tax applies, that means each one is 20 cents more ... for something I want my kids to have after a game."

Bowers argued that poor families would suffer if the tax, which would add $1.44 to the cost of a 12-pack, was approved.

Instead of holding a vote, council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) all but declared Cheh's proposal dead about 3:15 p.m.

Gray said he will instead ask his staff to come up with other possible ways to pay for Cheh's Healthy Schools initiative.

Cheh will probably now push to have the city's 6 percent sales tax extended to soda. Currently, the sales tax does not apply to soda because it is considered a grocery item.

The Healthy Schools legislation, approved unanimously by the council two weeks ago, requires city public and charter schools to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables, offer free breakfast in the classroom and add thousands of children to the city's free-lunch program.

But the bill has a $6.2 million price tag, meaning it cannot be implemented for the 2010-2011 school year without a revenue source.

-- Tim Craig

By Washington Post Editors  |  May 20, 2010; 3:57 PM ET
Categories:  Budget , City Finances , City Life , D.C. Council , Tim Craig , Vincent C. Gray  | Tags: d.c. council opposes soda tax, majority opposes soda tax, soda tax all but killed, soda tax opposed  
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Fat kids, fat parents. Make em pay.

Posted by: actupdc | May 20, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Fat Albert says:

When Washingtonians are so obese that they have to squeeze by eachother in a bus isle, or have to put their driver seat in its furtherest back position to get in their vehicle, its time to regulate drinking carbonated sugar water.

Your pancreas doesn't distinguish sugar from artificial sweeteners. That is, to say, it converts diet drinks to fat just as it converts sugared drinks to fat.

Drinking diet soft drinks to lose weight is a myth. Ask any doctor.

Posted by: unseenmirage | May 20, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

This is a great Win for Freedom of Choice....we do not need our council members making choices for us...picking winners and losers. Thank You Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7)

Posted by: sherriG2 | May 20, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

This is a great win for the soda makers and other promoters of obesity and diabetes. Jack, Harry, Muriel, and Yvette: this won't be forgotten. I hope you got a few good meals whoring for the ABA.

Posted by: blablabla | May 20, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

We should all collectively find a way to profit from the looming diabetes epidemic. The city can tax insulin and other drugs, and citizens and the city can invest in drug-makers.

Posted by: mendelsonmustgo | May 21, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) are in favor of pushing sugared water on young, old, sick and poor Washingtonians.


Posted by: SydneyP | May 21, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

It's hard to take them seriously on any legislation offered under the pretext of serving the greater good.

Posted by: logosdesigns | May 21, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

It is obvious that the D.C. Council lacks the leadership necessary to keep the city out of the tax lottery. What are they going to tax next," toilet paper." Its time for true leadership combined with a future purpose vote "Orange for Council Chair" tax dollars should not be a Government retirement plan.

Posted by: money124 | May 24, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Soda tax proponents were defeated by their own tactic: sugar pushers stopped the bill "for the sake of the children."


Posted by: MikeLicht | May 24, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

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