HARTFORD, CT – A bill that would impose a penny per ounce tax on certain carbonated and non-carbonated beverages that contain added caloric sweeteners will be the subject of a public hearing of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on Tuesday.
The sugary beverage tax, proponents hope, would be used to fund a welfare-to-work program that subsidizes child care for low-income families.
The public hearing is at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
The bill has been proposed in the past, but it hasn’t made it very far in the legislative process.
Advocates are hoping this year is different. Connecticut Voices for Children estimates a tax on sugary beverages would bring in about $85 million a year. The estimate is based on 2015 legislation that called for a tax of one cent on each fluid ounce of soda sold.
The $85 million in revenue, is far more than the $33 million Connecticut needed to fully fund the Care4Kids program this year.
As of the end of February, the wait list for the program had grown to 3,000 children and is expected to increase to 5,000 by the summer. Due to federal changes in the program last year, the state decided to close enrollment to most families and simply continue to fund the child already receiving care.
“Connecticut families already face some of the highest child care costs in the nation, with an average annual price tag of $13,880 for infant child care,” Connecticut Voices for Children said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy didn’t offer families any help. In fact his two-year budget cuts funding for the program by about $14.5 million over the next two years causing a potential shortfall of about $42 million in 2018 and $48 million in 2019. That’s why Connecticut Voices for Children is calling on lawmakers to consider a tax on sugary beverages as a way to fund the program.
The sugary beverage tax happens to be a big story currently in Philadelphia, where a 1.5 cent, per ounce tax on sweetened beverages went into effect on Jan. 1 of this year.
Last week an attorney for consumers, restaurants and beverage industry groups asked Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court on to strike down the tax, saying it violates a state law that limits the city’s taxing authority, among other laws.
The attorney arguing against the tax said that because soda and other sweetened beverages are already subject to the state’s 6 percent sales tax, Philadelphia’s tax on them is illegal.
Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, who was one of the main proponents of the tax in 2015, said in February that he believes adding an additional tax to sugary beverages will deter people from consuming it.
“It helps change that behavior,” Candelaria said. “And I think we’ll have a healthier population in our state.”
He admitted that it is a regressive tax and it targets the poor who are more likely to consume these beverages because they are often cheaper than a bottle of water.
But “the goal is to make people more healthy,” Candelaria said.
Opponents have said the tax is simply a revenue scheme.
Besides Philadelphia, Berkeley, California, has a similar soda tax, while Chicago taxes retail soft drink sales and fountain drinks. But soda tax proposals have failed in more than 30 cities and states.
Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman with the American Beverage Association, has said these sugary beverage tax proposals have been defeated 43 times since 2008. And in the states that have passed them, nothing has happened to the obesity rate.
States with long standing taxes on these types of beverages like West Virginia and Arkansas have some of the highest obesity rates in the country, Kane said so to say you’re levying the tax to reduce childhood obesity is a farce.