San Francisco’s Missed Opportunity to Pass Anti-Obesity Soda Tax

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Healthcare, Opinion, Politics

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Published on November 19, 2014 with 13 Comments

Proposition E, San Francisco's effort to curb obesity, failed to pass due to a failure of imagination.

Proposition E, San Francisco’s effort to curb obesity, failed to pass due to a failure of imagination.

By Ralph E. Stone

November 19, 2014

It is now old news that San Francisco’s proposed Soda Tax (Proposition E) did not pass and Berkeley’s (Measure D) did.  Proposition E would have placed a two-cent per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages while Berkeley’s Measure D will now place a one-cent per ounce tax.

Proposition E required a two-thirds majority to pass because the tax revenue would have gone into a special fund for recreation and nutrition programs in schools and parks.  Proposition E received 55 percent of the vote, less than the two-thirds requirement for passage.

Berkeley’s Measure D required only a majority to pass because the tax funds will go into the general fund. Measure D passed easily with 75 percent of the vote.

Why the interest in a soda tax?  Research has shown that reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption would reduce the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health problems.

What is puzzling is why the authors of Proposition E chose to have the tax proceeds go to a special fund rather than to the general fund, thus requiring a two-thirds majority to pass.

According to San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener, who spearheaded the legislation, “Had we gone with a general tax, Prop E would have lost badly.  We would have been lucky to get more than 40% of the vote.  San Francisco isn’t Berkeley.  For many people, what moved them from skepticism to yes were the guaranteed and important uses.”

I am not sure I agree with Supervisor Wiener.  Surely, emphasizing the consequences of sugar-sweetened beverages resonated with voters as much as where the tax funds would have gone.

The Proposition E authors knew or should have known that the American Beverage Industry would spend heavily to defeat the measure.  In fact, the ABI spent more than $10 million to defeat Proposition E.  In retrospect, the authors of Proposition E misread the voting public as to whether they would support a tax for general purposes which would require only a simple majority for passage.

The bottom line: Berkeley now has an anti-obesity soda tax and San Francisco does not.

Ralph E. Stone

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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