D.C. council finance chair Evans opposes soda tax proposal
Council member Mary M. Cheh plans to continue to push for citywide soda tax proposal, even though the chairman of the Finance Committee is refusing to hold a hearing on it and doesn't want it enacted.
Cheh is proposing the 1-cent per ounce tax to fund her Healthy Schools Initiative, which mandates that city public and charter schools serve healthier food at breakfast and lunch.
As initially proposed, the soda tax would have applied to all canned or bottled soda. But when the bill was actually drafted this week, Cheh limited the tax to only bottled "sugar-sweetened beverages." Diet drinks and noncaloric beverages would be excluded, an apparent effort by Cheh (D-Ward 3) to link the tax to efforts to combat childhood obesity.
Cheh is pushing to have the council approve the tax, which would generate about $16 million annually, as part of the fiscal year 2011 budget that will be approved in two weeks.
Traditionally, proposals for higher taxes have to first clear the Finance Committee. But Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), the chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, says he won't be holding a hearing on Cheh's proposal because he doesn't want to raise taxes this year.
"I am trying to get my colleagues not to run the city into financial ruin," said Evans, noting the budget submitted by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) last month is now balanced. "The council is saying we are going to do everything the mayor sent and then we are going to spend more money and we are just going to raise taxes to do it. That is an approach that is absolutely deadly."
Evans is warning it will be "bad government" if Cheh succeeds in winning approval for her tax without it first clearing his committee.
"I don't know how my colleagues think they can pass taxes through their committees," Evans said. "Mary wants to break the rules."
Nutrition advocates, however, appear to be lining up in support of Cheh's proposal. The
Campaign for Healthy Kids released a poll today that showed 71 percent of District voters support Cheh's proposal. "This poll demonstrates that the majority of DC voters are concerned about the obesity epidemic," said Andrew Hysell, project director for the Campaign for Healthy Kids
On Thursday, Cheh will appear with U.S. Agriculture Tom Vilsack at Deal Middle School to celebrate the passage of the Healthy Schools legislation. But it remains to be seen whether Vilsack, and by extension President Obama, will wade into the debate of the soda tax.
May 12, 2010; 12:02 PM ET
| Tags: Jack Evans, Tom Vilsack
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