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Santa Monica Lawmaker's Tax on Sugary Drinks Passes Key Committee

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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

April 10, 2019 -- Assemblymember Richard Bloom's bill taxing sugary drinks was approved by the Health Committee Tuesday, nearly four years after the same committee soundly defeated a similar measure by the former Santa Monica mayor.

Bloom's AB 138 -- which would levy a 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks to address California’s diabetes and obesity crisis -- would be the first such state tax approved in the country.

“The human toll of this health crisis is overwhelming,” Bloom said in a statement after the vote. “Individuals with diabetes face myriad health impacts.

"For too long, we have failed to sufficiently fund prevention programs that could drastically improve the quality of life for the residents of our state.”

Bloom's bill is expected to draw stiff opposition from the beverage industry, which is fighting similar taxes proposed in other states.

The bill -- which is sponsored by the American Heart Association, the Public Health Institute and the California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics -- targets what is widely viewed as the leading cause of obesity.

"Sugary drinks are the single largest source of added sugar in the American diet and are a key contributor the rising rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay," Bloom's office said.

Health officials estimate that three million Californians suffer from diabetes, which is especially prevalent in poor and minority communities.

Bloom's bill would use revenues from the tax to diabetes, which is estimated to cost California an estimated $27 billion a year in medical costs, as well as related diseases, according to the the Assembleymember's office.

"Sugary drink taxes have been identified as the most cost-effective prevention strategy, with one study estimating a $30 saving on healthcare costs for each dollar spent on implementation," Bloom's office said.

Bloom announced last July that he would once again sponsor a tax on sugary drinks this year.

His announcement came after the California Medical Association and the California Dental Association announced they would try to introduce a similar ballot measure in 2020.

Bloom's announcement also came after then Gov. Jerry Brown signed a measure that bars California cities and counties from creating taxes on soda and other sugary drinks through 2030.

The bill was the result of a deal between the beverage industry and organized labor that led to the removal of an initiative funded by soda companies that would make it harder to raise state and local taxes.

Bloom's previous bill would have generated $3 billion a year by putting a 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sodas and other sugary beverages.

Industry lobbyists argued that obesity and diabetes have numerous causes and that singling out sweet sodas was unfair when other sugary foods were not subject to the tax.

The California Chamber of Commerce called the the 2015 bill a “job killer.”

Several soda tax bills have been proposed over the years but none has reached the floor of the State Assembly or State Senate, where it would need a two-thirds vote to pass.

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