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Soda tax nixed in state assembly committee

April 25, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A controversial new tax on soda pop fizzled in a state Assembly committee Monday. The measure would have levied a one-penny tax for every ounce of liquid in sweetened beverage containers. There was a growing backlash to the bill.

The proposal was shelved, so at least for now there will be no extra tax on soda as California comes to grips with what some health groups estimate is a $41-billion-per-year obesity problem.

With science to back him up, state Assm. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) pleaded with the California State Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation to approve his soda tax proposal. It would levy a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in California. A typical can of soda would cost 12 cents extra. The money would help fight childhood obesity.

"In the last 30 years, the average American's caloric intake has increased by 300 calories, and 43 percent of those additional calories come from soda consumption," said Dr. Kitty Hart, a family practice doctor.

But the beverage industry also brought in an expert to point out the obesity problem is so complex, it can't be solved by targeting just one food item.

"Back in the '80s when we tended to focus only on fat, we said that was the most important thing," said registered dietitian Lisa Katic. "People then switched to other foods that didn't contain a lot of fat, and we still continued to get fat."

The bill failed, with members saying parents and individuals should be responsible for what they drink, not government.

In an era of budget cuts, the soda tax would have brought in $1.7 billion per year to local schools and communities to help pay for more nutritious meals and physical education classes.

Some San Diego-area high school students say their campus could have used the money.

"We want to be active, and then the food -- all they serve us is pizza. Pizza isn't very healthy," said Chula Vista Berenica Garcia, a high-school sophomore.

Others were glad the soda tax didn't get approved, because of the cost.

"Let's just say it was a dollar: a dollar plus the regular tax, plus another tax for how many ounces are in it? It's too much," said National City resident Darcie Vargas, a high school freshman.

Assemblyman Monning vows to keep trying to pass a soda tax. He says today's obese children will be tomorrow's chronically ill adults with very high healthcare costs.