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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.

--Tim Craig

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By Tim Craig  |  May 12, 2010; 12:02 PM ET
 | Tags: Jack Evans, Tom Vilsack  
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So let me get this right... a 2-Liter (67.62 ounces) bottle of Coca-Cola would cost 67 cents in taxes! 1 cent for every ounce of soda! Who would every go grocery shopping in DC again! This has to be the dumbest idea out there and I drink diet soda!

Posted by: cthokievex | May 12, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Tax all the sugary drinks- sodas, juice sports drinks + all of them...and tax the fast food/junk food as well. I don't want to pay for your heart disease,diabetes treatment, gastric bypass, etc. with my tax dollars because YOU chose to eat cr@p! pony up now and pay for YOUR bad choices!

Posted by: lsf07 | May 12, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm amused by the opposition to this measure, because all the claims being made are contradicted by all available research into the matter.

-CDC says a soda tax is the single best way to combat the obesity epidemic
-a Yale study (google Rudd Report) indicates that consumption would go down, which is good, but not so much that the tax does not yield revenue, which is even better.
-Economists have noted that the five-cent bag tax hasn't sent DC consumers over the borders into MD and VA and anticipate similar behavior when this measure is to the previous commenter, apparently everybody will still go shopping in DC.

The only people opposed to this bill are convenience stores (oh no, not the convenience stores!) and drink manufacturers. I got no real sympathy for them over the health of DC schoolkids.

Posted by: purpledrank | May 12, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Next up, at tax of tickets to sporting events. Except the one's held at the Verizon Center and Nationals Park. That leaves what? D.C. United games a JFK, small college basketball and football games(I forgot colleges are tex exmept institutions). Gee that'll make a dent in the city's budget deficit.

Posted by: PracticalIndependent | May 12, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

i think they should tax the diet soda too.
there is no nutrional value in a diet soda and evidence they just make you hungrier so you just eat more of other things.

1 cents an ounce does seem high tho.
maybe only 1/3 cent an ounce.

Posted by: MarilynManson | May 12, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Note that the bill applies to sugar sweetened beverages. Tough to find anything sweetened w/ real sugar anymore.

Maybe that's a loophole for the councilwoman's "friends" in the beverage industry, or maybe someone didn't do their homework.

If they want it to stick they better include HFCS.

Posted by: BEEPEE | May 12, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

So, from the division of the funds, the primary purpose is to help close the budget gap and some of the funds will go to the healthy schools program. As usual, government creates a crisis by removing PE from schools and serving unhealthy food for all these years and now blame it 100% on the city residents. Why not 100% of the revenue go to recreational center, health and wellness classes, and health programs for kids and parents instead of using it to cover the deficit from mismanagement and irresponsible decisions. It would make the tax more palatable. Remember the old bag tax 'bait and switch trick'.

Posted by: tazz2 | May 18, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Also, I seriously doubt the validity these people with all of these statistics and polls because I am a voter and have lived in DC all my life and have never, never been approached or solicited for any of these outrageous polls made up by special interests groups with ridiculous claims of 71% of the "ALL" (100%)DC voters being for their cause. As a matter of fact, I could ask every DC voter that I come across and I'll bet they tell me the same.

Posted by: tazz2 | May 18, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

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