Soda Tax Update: California Bill Collapses, ABA Attacks Philly Mayor

Legislative efforts in California to introduce a two cents per fluid ounce tax on sodas and sugar-sweetened drinks have been put on hold until next year.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom announced earlier this week that Assembly Bill 138 will remain in committee for the remainder of the current legislative session and will be reconsidered next year.

Funds generated by the tax would be directed towards programs addressing “California’s diabetes and obesity crisis,” according to Bloom’s website. The bill had received support from the California Medical Association, the California Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The California Chamber of Commerce and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association opposed the bill.

Lobbying efforts by the ABA to combat soda taxes came under scrutiny earlier this month when the Los Angeles Times shared details of the group’s $11.8 million campaign to influence lawmakers. As a means of preventing future battles over taxes, soda companies spent $8.9 million last year alone in support of a proposed law that would block local governments from implementing any new taxes of any kind. The proposal was eventually dropped in exchange for lawmakers banning local soda taxes through 2030.

“We are glad the legislature delayed action because California’s voters oppose a beverage tax which would be an unfair burden on working families, neighborhood businesses and employees already struggling with the state’s high cost of living,” said a spokesperson for the ABA in an emailed statement. “This is why nearly 60% of Californians say they don’t want more taxes on food and beverages. We remain committed to working with the legislature on effective ways to address its budgetary and public health concerns and to ensure that food and beverages remain affordable for all Californians.”

Meanwhile, almost a year after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court moved to protect it, Philadelphia’s soda tax remains a political flashpoint in the lead up to election season.

The ABA has spent a reported $604,000 on negative ads attacking Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney in the build up to elections municipal elections in November. In comparison, Kenney has spent around $497,000 on his own campaign, while other candidates Alan Butkovitz ($79,000) and state Sen. Anthony Williams ($24,000) lag further behind. Both oppose the tax.

Philadelphia campaign finance law does not impose contribution limits on outside groups.

Further muddying the waters is a 116-charge criminal indictment filed in January that includes allegations that a powerful local labor union boss pushed City Councilman Bobby Henon to support the soda tax in order to punish the Teamsters for running negative political ads against him.

Last month, a poll by the ABA showed 59% of likely Democratic primary voters in Philadelphia oppose the tax.