Point-Counter Point: Richmond Measure N Soda Tax

As election day approaches, debate sharpens over controversial local measures. Below see 17 REASONS WHY MEASURE N, A TAX ON SUGAR DRINKS, SHOULD BE DEFEATED, by Richmond resident Charles Smith, followed by point by point rebuttal by Richmond Councilmember Jeff Ritterman, a backer of the tax on sugar sweetened beverages.

17 REASONS WHY MEASURE N, A TAX ON SUGAR DRINKS, SHOULD BE DEFEATED, by Charles Smith

1. Measure N is a regressive tax. Measure N, like all regressive taxes, will impact the poor while it will it will have significantly less impact on the economically comfortable.

2. Measure N is racist in that it deliberately targets minorities.

3. Measure N is not a tax on soda drinks. It is a tax assessed on the basis of a business’s inventory of sugar drinks. What this means is that the cost to the business of recouping the cost of this tax can be levied on any and all products sold.

4. In addition, Measure N applies to a variety of drinks other than soda such as juices, soy milk, almond milk, fruit juice blends, veggie-drinks, aguas frescas, Thai iced tea, tapioca pearl drinks, Ensure, power drinks, sports drinks, etc.

5. The poorest neighborhoods in Richmond are without supermarkets and have been for years.

6. Measure N places an unfair burden on Richmond small businesses, especially food stores and restaurants, by requiring additional accounting and creating an unfair competitive disadvantage.

7. In all likelihood Measure N will not reduce the amount of sugar drinks being consumed because the tax, although high, will not cause most people to reduce their intake of sugar drinks. Comparing the results of taxes on cigarettes, which amount to several dollars per pack, is not a valid comparison.

8. It is estimated that if passed Measure N will bring in at least three million dollars a year for the City. The fact that the Measure’s proponents are already calculating this windfall indicates that they do not actually expect that it will cause much of a reduction in consumption.

9. Measure N has no sunset clause, which means that, regardless of the health related results, the tax will be here to stay.

10. Should Measure N pass it will be the first step on a slippery slope to additional punitive and paternalistic taxes such as taxes on high caloric or so-called junk foods.

11. Should Measure N pass it will generate a rush to pass similar taxes on sugar drinks in other cities facing fiscal deficits without companion Measure O’s advisory suggestion that the revenue be spent on health and wellness initiatives.

12. Measure N does nothing to harm the bottom line of the corporate manufacturers or distributers and if it did they would only pass the costs on to the consumer.

13. Measure N does nothing to address the main cause of early age morbidity amongst poor people, which is stress. In fact, this regressive tax adds to the stress facing our poor communities.

14. Measure N promoters claim the new revenue from the tax will be used to create a healthier community but have never said how much of the tax will go to funding heath programs. Furthermore, the supporters have changed their position as to where the money will be spent three or four times already with suggestions ranging from soccer fields to swimming lessons.

15. Measure N currently has a majority vote on the council. They have pledged to use the Measure N tax funds for health programs. What happens if this majority changes?

16. Should Measure N pass it will bring in revenue to the general fund. With each passing year the 15-year settlement agreement with Chevron cuts back on the amount of funds that Chevron pays to the City. As our fiscal deficits deepen will future health programs take precedence and override more pressing community priorities such as street repairs, park maintenance, cleanup of illegal dumping, police projects, senior citizen centers, libraries, etc.?

17. If passed Measure N will create a more divided community. It has already exacerbated existing tensions along racial and class lines as well as harming our small local merchants.
Pass it on.

RESPONSE TO CHARLES SMITH CONCERNING RICHMOND MEASURE N SODA TAX, by Councilmember Jeff Ritterman

1. It’s actually the diseases which come with obesity like premature heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and cancer which are impacting the poor more than anything else. Richmond’s poor have years stolen from their lives due to these illnesses The costs to a family when a family member has any of these illnesses far outweighs the one cent per ounce Soda Tax.

2. It’s BIG SODA which is targeting minorities and looking to our African American and Latino students to become their lifelong customers. That’s why BIG SODA markets extensively to minorities. Does anyone in Richmond serious believe that COKE, PEPSI and DR. PEPPER care about the health of our children. BIG SODA is fully aware that their product is causing our kids to die younger than they should from premature heart attacks, strokes, complications of diabetes and cancer all of which have been linked to Soda consumption.

3. The Soda Tax is a business license fee. That’s the only way a city can independently do this tax. A business can decide to levy the tax on the consumer or not. We fully expect this business license fee to be passed on to the consumer in the cost of Sodas. That’s what BIG SODA expects too. BIG SODA’s own survey in Richmond showed that if the tax passes Soda consumption in Richmond will drop 15-24%. That’s why BIG SODA is worried.

4. The tax will effect other beverages with added sugars. 100% fruit juices, Ensure and infant formula will not be covered. Drinks with added sugars are causing our obesity epidemic especially in our children.

5. The tax will have no effect on the number of supermarkets in Richmond. That is a problem we continue to work on, but in the meantime let’s make sure we do something to reverse the obesity epidemic which is robbing our children of years of their lives. They simply will die younger than they should because of the health impacts of sugary drinks. Its not our children’s fault and we need to do something to prevent this tragedy.

6. The city is currently working on a webpage which businesses will be able to access and into which they will input their inventory and the Soda Tax will be calculated for them. Richmond merchants will be the first to adapt to the Soda Tax. If it passes in Richmond, I predict it will sweep the bay area within the next few years. San Pablo city council is planning on introducing it in 2014. It will be an economic advantage to be the first to adapt in the long run.

7. The American Beverages Association’s (Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper) own data in Richmond from a telephone survey predicts a drop in consumption of 15-24%. Does anyone really think that COKE, PEPSI and DR. PEPPER would spend over a million dollars in Richmond if they were not worried that consumption would drop. Consumption in Richmond has already dropped just because of the discussion. When it passes, our kids will be further encouraged to make healthy beverage choices and consumption will drop further.

8. We expect a steady decrease in consumption which means the tax revenue would drop over time assuming Richmond’s population does not increase. We are fine with consumption dropping and the Soda Tax revenue dropping also. If tomorrow all of our children got the message and stopped buying sugary drinks and we got very little tax revenue we would consider it a huge success and Richmond would lead the nation in reversing childhood obesity. The same is true of cigarette taxes. We hope consumption goes down which it is and therefore we collect less tax, but that’s OK. We want consumption to drop because when it does our kids get healthier.

9. There is no sunset clause because reversing childhood obesity is at least a decade long project, maybe more. Let’s not focus on when we stop taxing Sodas. Let’s focus on reversing childhood obesity. The primary cause of childhood obesity and the diabetes, and premature heart attacks which come with the obesity, is consumption of sugar sweetened beverages. We still tax cigarettes and still use the money to further reduce smoking. We can do the same with sodas.

10. Measure N is aimed at sodas and other sugar sweetened beverages which are the primary cause of the obesity/diabetes/premature heart attack epidemic. You drink a soda when you are thirsty, not when you are hungry. Foods are not a part of the thirst system, they are part of the hunger system. The choice when we are hungry is not between junk food or any food and a soda. The choice is between a soda and another type of beverage.

All foods produce fullness. Beverages do not. All foods require time in the GI system for digestion. Beverages do not. For 150,000 years humans have quenched our thirst with water. Water is still what the body expects. When we quench our thirst with water into which a huge amount of sugar has been added, like in a soda, the liver converts the sugar to fat. Some of the fat we see around our waist line. That’s not the fat which hurts us. Its the fat that gets deposited in our liver and in the arteries of our heart’s which eventually lead to liver failure, diabetes and premature heart attacks.

The science implicating sodas and other sugary drinks in diabetes, strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure and cancer is new science. Many folks don’t know that one can of soda a day increases a man’s risk of a ehart attack by 20%.

The science is new and it is frightening. We need to protect our children!

11. Once Measure N passes other cities will follow suit and eventually the state and the federal government will join is. We will be the ones to make history and we will get the credit. Richmond will increase it’s reputation as a health conscious city and businesses and people that are health conscious will locate in Richmond. This is already happening as a reuslt of the Soda Tax campaign. A health conscious company from Chicago looked a warehouse space in Richmond this week because the CEO and I made contact over the Soda Tax campaign.

12. If BIG SODA was not worried about their bottom line they would not be spending huge amounts of money in Richmond. BIG SODA is worried that their profits will drop locally and eventually nationally and worldwide because we in Richmond are standing up to them in order to protect our children.

13. Poor nutrition is a huge driver of illness in Richmond’s poor communities. We have excellent tap water which is healthy and free. Soda consumption is the main culprit in the obesity/diabetes/premature heart attack epidemic. That’s why the top doctor for prevention in the US, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that the soda tax could be the “single most effective measure to reverse the obesity epidemic.” He is the man in charge of disease prevention for the United States.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the organization which represents our children’s doctors has “applauds the Richmond City Council on behalf of the health of the children of California and strongly supports this measure” the Richmond Soda Tax.

14. Measure N promoters claim the new revenue from the tax will be used to create a healthier community but have never said how much of the tax will go to funding heath programs. Furthermore, the supporters have changed their position as to where the money will be spent three or four times already with suggestions ranging from soccer fields to swimming lessons.

The $3 Million which we expect to be generated will go into the General Fund. Otherwise we would need a 2/3 majority to pass the Soda Tax and we did not want 34 per cent of the voters to be able to derail this important measure.

With $3 million we can teach every third grader in Richmond how to swim at The Plunge. We can also put a nutrition and gardening teacher in each of our elementary schools. We can build more sports facilities and we can help pay the cost of our after school sports programs. We can do all of this and more. I believe that the city council is firmly committed to investing the Soda tax revenue in programs and projects to reverse childhood obesity, but it is always up to the public to make sure that public dollars are well spent.

15. It will be the responsibility of future city councils to decide how to allocate the Soda Tax revenue. That’s why its so very important who we have on the city council. If Richmond voters want a city council committed to investing the Soda tax revenue in programs and projects to reverse childhood obesity, they will vote for Marilyn Langlois, Eduardo Martinez and Tom Butt, the only candidates in support of the Soda Tax and the only candidates who we can really trust to invest the money to improve the health of our children.

16. Richmond’s economic renaissance will not be funded by increasing revenue from Chevron. It will require Richmond to attract businesses who see Richmond as the place they want to make their home. Our successful campaign to attract the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) is part of our economic revitalization strategy.

The LBNL Richmond campus will focus on health research and research in energy and genetics. We already have important “clusters’ of green-tech, clean-tech and health promting companies. The Soda tax distinguishes Richmond as a city, above all others, committed to the health of our children.

Our health cluster is expanding with Nutiva, Exoskeleton, Harvard Bioscience, Diamond Video and Tissue Bank and others. As I mentioned above a health promoting company from Chicago visited and looked at warehouse space this week. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is interested in funding researchers to study Richmond if we do pass the Soda Tax. Richmond will become a city of national health interest and that will bring with it investments which will further our economic goals.

17. The division over the Soda Tax is really a division between those who are campaigning for a healthier future for our children and those caught up in the arguments advanced by BIG SODA. There would be no organized campaign against the Soda tax without Big Soda. The billboards, the mailers, the phone banking etc.. is all paid for by COKE, PEPSI and DR. PEPPER.

Our community was nearly evenly divided over the issue of a gambling casino. Many of those siding with Big Soda also wanted a gambling casino in Richmond. The majority of us opposed the casino and despite years of bitter controversy, the casino was voted out and the community is better off for it. The community will be better of if we pass the soda tax too.

Yes on N. Less Soda and More Sports Equals Health Children.

Comments

  1. Felix Hunziker says

    Jeff Ritterman is not telling the truth when he says infant formula and senior nutritional supplements are not taxable under Measure N.

    The December 2011 draft ordinance he drafted specifically exempted infant formula, medical foods and milks from the tax. It also included a sunset clause. Fast forward to May 2012 and our City Council passed the current version with these exemptions *removed* and the definition of sweetened beverages made so broad it covers far more than soft drinks and, of course, infant formula and Ensure. Then in July 2012, Ritterman engaged in an online debate where he defended the taxation of infant formula stating “There is no reason for sugar sweetened infant formula not to be taxed.”

    But now, just weeks before the election and faced with withering criticism for proposing such a broad and onerous tax on Richmond’s poor, Jeff is is doing the unthinkable: he’s abusing his position as a public official to modify the scope of the ordinance to again exempt infant formula and senior supplements in an attempt to mollify his critics. This is all being done out of the public eye and using valuable City staff time to draft a “clarification” for an ordinance that will be rejected by Richmond residents. I don’t know how many principles of open government, ethical behavior and the Brown Act this violates but it must be quite a few.

    We Richmond voters need to reject not only this Sugar Tax but also those council candidates who seek to push their personal agendas with impunity and without public participation.

    Please vote NO on Measure N.

  2. Kris Hunt, Executive Director says

    First, the soda “tax” is not strictly a tax. It is a business license fee that is charged to the retailer, not the purchaser. The retailer may or not pass it on to those purchasing a sugary drink. And sometimes it would be impossible. In a self serve drink dispenser found in so many fast food locations, there is no way to tell whether the customer will select a sugary or non-sugared drink.

    Second, the business license assessment will be on all sorts of drinks, not just soda.

    Third, the money will go into the city’s general fund. The companion measure is advisory only. The money can be used for anything. The laundry list of potential uses is designed so that everyone will find something they would like to fund, but realistically, there is no legal requirement to fund any of that huge list.

    • John says

      Kris, your comment brings up a question related to taxing soda. When you go to a fast food place such as Togo’s and you order a sandwich, chips, and drink they tax you on the entire combo. What if you walk over to the self serve and fill up your cup with tea? Tea is not taxable and that portion should be deducted. You might ask to hold the tax on the tea part when you order your meal as I did one time to see what they would do. They had no idea how not to charge tax on that tea. Who ends up getting all that money on non taxable tea that gets taxed? Remember there are hundreds of thousands of fast food places that serve multiple times a day. Is this a precursor to tax all consumable liquids?

    • says

      This is an example of the unintended consequences of government regulation and why businesses close down or move out of California.