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Proposed soda tax could be derailed

D.C. Council member Jack Evans, chairman of the Committee on Finance & Revenue, plans to slow efforts on the council to enact a citywide soda tax to pay for stringent new school nutrition standards.

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) is proposing the one-cent-per-ounce soda tax so she can implement her Healthy Schools Act, which is expected to easily pass the council Tuesday.

Under Cheh's proposal, the city tax on all canned and bottled soda would generate about $16 million annually. Cheh needs $6 million of that money to help the schools implement the new healthier student breakfasts and lunches spelled out in the healthy schools bill. The remaining $10 million would help the city close its budget shortfall. Cheh was hoping that the soda tax, which adds $1.44 to the cost of a 12-pack of Coke cans, could be approved as part of the 2011 budget that the council will approve late in May.

But Evans (D-Ward 2) said he wants his committee to carefully review the proposal before the full council votes on it.

"I don't want my colleagues circumventing the Finance Committee," said Evans, who also expressed his concerns to Cheh in a letter. "We need to have a hearing on all of this and get the facts out."

Evans noted that city officials enacted a 5.75 percent tax on snack food in 1993. But it was repealed in 2001 after it caused widespread confusion among shop owners and consumers over what items should be taxed.

"It was a complete disaster," Evans said.

Cheh aides argue that her soda tax proposal would be far easier to implement because it would be assessed on distributors, meaning individual stores would not have to collect and administer it. They said Cheh plans to have the soda tax incorporated into the budget.

If Cheh does not succeed in rushing a soda tax through the council, schools won't be able to enact the provisions of the healthy schools legislation by the start of the 2010-2011 school year. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said Monday that, although the council will probably approve the bill Tuesday, its implementation is dependent on a revenue source.

-- Tim Craig

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By Washington Post Editors  |  May 3, 2010; 5:06 PM ET
Categories:  Budget , City Finances , D.C. Council , Education , Tim Craig  | Tags: Budget, Jack Evans, Vincent C. Gray, mary cheh, soda tax  
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This tax would not even be considered if it were strictly for her cause but since there is 10 mil. in tax revenue it makes it attractive. Tax people for sodas. Why not add a 50% tax on McDonalds happy meals, raise the income tax on people making 200,000 or more, here's one that I'm sure will go through on a vote; check this out, a sagging penalty fee.

Posted by: tazz2 | May 4, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh’s proposed beverage tax would include much more then just soda. Cheh’s proposal would target all sugary beverages. Sport drinks, juices, iced tea, lemonade, if it has sugar, Cheh wants to tax it. This would lead to confusion as baristas attempt to calculate the tax of a large black coffee with two sugars. It would be the 1993 snack food tax fiasco all over again.

The dividing line between low-income and outright poverty is a string of coins. Low-income families shop for food by looking at price tags, not the USDA food pyramid. Regressive taxation not only stretches the food budget, but could wreak devastation on the whole family economy. It isn’t the president of Pepsi that will join the unemployment line, but the delivery driver, the convenience store clerk and the hot dog vendor.

Posted by: NoMoreDCTaxes | May 4, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

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