Gimme Some Sugar: Junk food lobbyists keep sweet tax breaks while legislators ponder sales tax increase

March 19, 2010 | Aaron Keating

ShareIt’s a public policy triple play. Tax sweets (like candy, gum and soft drinks) and you:

  • Raise enough revenue to ensure thousands of children can get (or keep) their health care.
  • Discourage behavior with high social costs like obesity and dental cavities.
  • Make the tax system more fair by ending tax exemptions for those items.

If it sounds like a smart policy idea, that’s because it is. And this year the Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition was working with legislators to make it a reality by enacting a 5 cent per 12 ounce tax on soft drinks, and repealing a tax break for soda syrup. That package would have raised as much as $300 million, depending on how the taxes were enacted.

Meanwhile, over in the “Department of Numerical Coincidences” the state Senate proposes a 3/10ths of a cent increase sales tax, estimated to raise about…$300 million. (Actually, $313 million, according to page 18 of the bill’s fiscal note.)

Fast forward to the end of the legislative session, and which option do you suppose is still on the table? We turn to Olympia Newswire, which reports:

…the soda tax isn’t on either the House or the Senate’s agenda (at least not publicly), even though the tax was proposed to the Legislature by the Governor, and introduced as part of a tax package in the House. Proposals to raise special taxes on tobacco, candy, gum, and bottled water live on in public debates. But the soda tax—unlike the other sin taxes proposed by the Governor— has dropped off the map.

What happened? Industry lobbyists went to work.

So in effect, given the choice between a) taxing soda, and b) having everyone in the state pay more for everything, legislators are actively considering the second option and ignoring the first.

Still on the legislative table:  Whether to end $30.5 million per year sales tax exemption  for candy and gum products. Have an opinion about that? Give your legislator a call to let them know at 800.562.6000, or look them up here and send them an email.

UPDATE 3/20: Publicola says the House has dropped the $30 million gum and candy tax that was in the House’s first revenue package (and not in the Senate’s).

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Posted in Health Care, State Economy, Tax and Budget

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