HARTFORD, CT — As part of his budget address Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont will propose a tax on sugary beverages.
Lamont’s Office of Policy and Management confirmed the inclusion in the budget, but declined to say what the rate would be.
“We can leverage the tax code to accomplish valuable public health objectives, including incenting healthy behaviors and discouraging unhealthy ones,” Chris McClure, a spokesman for the Office of Policy and Management, said. “This proposal is intended to encourage healthier food choices by our state’s residents, mitigate future health costs and, if enacted, would place Connecticut as the first state to do so.”
In the past, lawmakers have debated a one-cent-per-ounce excise tax on sugary beverages, including sodas, juices, and sports drinks. The tax would raise $145.2 million annually at current rates of consumption. And like past proposals it would not apply to flavored milk or 100 percent juice.
Ryan Drajewicz, Lamont’s chief of staff, said Sunday that he understands there will be people upset about proposals like the sugary beverage tax or a 10-cent plastic bag fee, but he maintained that neither was about revenue generation.
“This isn’t about generating revenue this is about changing behavior. Behavior that leads to healthier lives and a better environment,” Drajewicz said.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, has said a sugary beverage tax is a more immediate way to raise revenue than tolls or recreational marijuana.
And even though it’s a regressive tax, “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,” Steinberg has said.
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.”
Former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wasn’t supportive of either a sugary beverage tax or a plastic bag fee.
The American Beverage Association believes there’s a better way to achieve the results of the sugary beverage tax.
“We’re creating more drinks with less or no sugar and we’re making smaller bottles and cans more widely available. Today, 50 percent of all beverages sold contain zero sugar,” William M. Dermody Jr., a spokesman with the industry organization said. “There are also better ways to fund budget priorities without raising taxes on people who can least afford it.”
Since 2008, there have been 55 proposals to tax sugary drinks that have been defeated.
As far as the plastic bag fee is concerned, Democrats and Republicans this year have introduced 12 bills regarding the prohibition or elimination of plastic bags. The Environment Committee is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposal soon.
Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, said they support the phase-out of plastic bags over the next three years, which is where their members are already headed.
Supermarket chain Big Y, which has 30 stores across Connecticut, announced in January that it will phase out single-use plastic bags in its stores by 2020.
National chains Costco and Aldi, which both have stores in Connecticut, currently do not provide free single-use plastic bags. At Aldi, customers can purchase re-usable plastic bags, or paper bags, for a fee.