The Soda Tax: The Final Showdown?
Berkeley and San Francisco gear up for what could be the last attempt to introduce a tax on sugary drinks.



San Francisco and Berkeley are aiming to become the first cities in the nation to pass per-ounce taxes on sugary drinks.

The California cities, which are two of the most progressive in the country, will likely be the last chance for the soda tax.

Larry Tramutola, who is managing the Berkeley campaign in support of the tax, knows the stakes are high. “The industry is really motivated to beat us here,” he told the Associated Press. “If they can beat us in San Francisco and Berkeley, nobody is going to take them on.”

The proposal in Berkeley would impose a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks. It requires a majority of the vote to pass. In San Francisco, the tax would be two cents for every ounce, which means an additional $0.40 per bottle and $3.00 per twelve-pack. The San Francisco tax needs two-thirds of the vote to pass.

Of the 30 attempts at introducing taxes for sugary drinks around the country since 2009, none have succeeded. This includes attempts in New York City, Philadelphia, Maine, and Washington state.

But supporters of the tax in the California cities remain hopeful, saying they are better prepared than past campaigns have been.

Maggie Muir, a consultant who is leading the campaign in support of the soda tax, told National Review that previous campaigns failed because they “didn’t have a professional, well-orchestrated effort.” She explained that her campaign will run TV ads, mail fliers, and call voters to spread the message about the tax.

Muir also noted that the proposed tax in San Francisco is unique in that it would have the revenue collected from the soda taxes go to city and public-school nutrition, health, and fitness programs. The LA Times reports that the annual proceeds are estimated to be as much as $31 million.

“San Francisco is a unique city that really cares about the health of its citizens,” Muir said, noting that hundreds of volunteers have already signed up to help with the campaign. She also noted that merchants have been displaying signs in their windows promoting the tax, and that they have the support of the parents of the city and the public health community.

But the American Beverage Association seems ready for the fight. Roger Salazar, a spokesman for Californians for Food and Beverage Choice, which a group spearheaded by the ABA, told National Review that he is confident that the result will be the same as previous attempts. Though he does acknowledge that the ABA’s opponent is “very well organized,” he said that the city’s progressive nature is not a new challenge, explaining that most of the efforts at introducing taxes have been in progressive cities.

“It’s been voted down in location after location,” he told National Review, including two other cities in California, Richmond and El Monte.

To counter their campaign, Salazar says the ABA will “do as much education as possible” through the media and meetings with voters. They will show voters, he said, how the proposal will increase “the price burden for people in San Francisco and Berkeley, and place additional burdens on their businesses and cities.”

Tramutola told National Review that in these previous campaigns, it was “not a fair fight.” He said that the battles between the large ABA and small cities like El Monte was like “David versus Goliath.” He anticipates that the ABA will spend a large amount of money in the Berkeley showdown “as they do in every situation,” but is confident that voters will understand that the tax is “a smart and prudent thing to do.”