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San Francisco moves to put sugary-drink tax on ballot

February 04, 2014|By Lee Romney

SAN FRANCISCO -- A coalition of San Francisco supervisors will move today to place a tax of two cents per ounce on sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages on the November ballot, triggering what is expected to be a costly fight with opponents who aim to defeat it.

If the measure were to pass, as much as $31 million in estimated annual proceeds from the "unified soda tax measure" would go to city and public school nutrition, health and physical activity programs to combat diabetes, obesity and other negative health effects of sugary beverage consumption, backers said Tuesday.

It is sponsored by five members of the Board of Supervisors.

“With the epidemic of diseases related to these drinks that we are experiencing here in San Francisco, we as city leaders have a responsibility to act,” Supervisor Scott Wiener said in a statement.

Added Supervisor Eric Mar: “As a father I know our families need help when they live in environments saturated with sugary drinks that are aggressively marketed everywhere children turn."

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Wiener and Mar introduced separate soda tax measures last fall but then merged their efforts with collaboration from public health advocates and other community leaders.

Other such attempts to tax sugary drinks have gone down to resounding defeat, criticized in well-funded campaigns as disproportionately burdensome to the poor. The American Beverage Assn. poured millions of dollars into countering similar California ballot efforts in Richmond and El Monte in 2012, for example.

In liberal San Francisco the industry has already begun to mount an opposition campaign, retaining the prominent political affairs firm BMWL and Partners, which has formed the Coalition for an Affordable City in an attempt to capitalize on anxieties over San Francisco's rising cost of living, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. 

The measure would require a two-thirds vote to pass. BMWL's vice president told the Chronicle that once it qualifies for the ballot, a campaign committee will be created and the source of all funding formally disclosed. 

The beverage industry has been clear about its position.

“The only thing a beverage distribution tax will accomplish in San Francisco is to raise grocery and restaurant prices for everyone — for soda drinkers and non-soda-drinkers alike,” Chuck Finnie, a spokesman for the beverage industry, said in a statement issued Friday. “At a time when affordability is the biggest concern of voters, new taxes that raise the cost of living are the last thing the Board of Supervisors should be focused on.”

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lee.romney@latimes.com

Twitter @leeromney

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