HARTFORD, CT — In a last-ditch effort to get it included in the budget, one lawmaker and two experts from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity tried to convince the governor and lawmakers to include a sugary beverage tax in their budget proposals.
A one cent per ounce excise tax on sugary beverages, including sodas, juices, and sports drinks, would raise $145.2 million annually. It would not apply to flavored milk or 100 percent juice.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said he would prefer to focus on the healthcare aspects of the tax, but it’s undeniable that the state is facing a large budget deficit that will require deep spending cuts.
“Revenue ideas that we had not previously contemplated are at least on the idea for conversation at this juncture,” Steinberg said.
He said if you compare this to adding tolls, expanding casino gaming, or legalizing recreational marijuana, “this is at least a tax that has a positive health benefit not merely in terms of reducing consumption, but health benefits down the road.”
He said if he had to choose a revenue source then he would at least “choose one that’s beneficial to the state of Connecticut.”
It’s also an immediate revenue source. Tolls, casinos, and marijuana revenues would not be realized until future budget years.
Steinberg said he wants to make sure lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy are thinking about it as a serious revenue option. He said if they don’t have any revenue options on the table then they will be left with nothing but cuts.
But its chances of passage are still slim.
“I don’t support a sugary beverage tax,” Malloy said Monday in releasing his revised budget proposal.
However, advocates will continue to make their case about the efficacy of the tax to lawmakers.
In Mexico, where the 10 percent tax was implemented more than two years ago, they see the tax driving down consumption by 7 to 8 percent, said Tania Andreyeva, director of economic incentives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
It does hit the poorest residents the hardest because they are ones drinking the sugary beverages, which are much cheaper sometimes than a bottle of water.
“This drinks are heavily marketed to young people, especially black and latino children,” Sally Mancini, director of advocacy and resources at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said.
Andreyeva said, “It’s a regressive tax, but it actually has a progressive health impact.”
She admitted that it will take years to see the impact on obesity, but it does have an immediate impact on driving down consumption.
Legislation that would have implemented a sugary beverage tax died in committee.
Meanwhile, a Keep Connecticut Affordable coalition which includes the beverage industry and the supermarket industry, said it’s “seen what’s happened when this tax has been imposed elsewhere – local grocers and storeowners lose business to stores over the border, costing jobs and hurting working families. We ask our lawmakers to join us in opposing any new taxes on working families and small businesses.”