Caught in initiative tussle, California bans cities and counties from taxing soda

Faced with pressure from the beverage industry, which funded a potentially game-changing ballot measure in order to halt local soda tax initiatives, the state of California adopted a law that prohibits cities and counties from taxing soda for the next 12 years.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1838 into law last week. In a signing statement, Brown said four California cities are currently considering passing a soda tax in attempts to combat the adverse health effects of children over consuming sugar.

In response to the proposed soda taxes, the beverage industry circulated a petition for a “far-reaching initiative.” If passed, the soda industry’s initiative would raise the vote threshold on all city ballot measures from 50 percent to two-thirds.

The change would apply to all 482 cities in the state and mandate two-thirds voter approval for any city initiative to pass, regardless of topic. This possibility alarmed mayors from countless cities, Brown said in the signing statement.

Additionally, the beverage industry initiative would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature in order for the state to raise certain fees.

“This would be an abomination,” Brown stated.

In turn, the state of California reached a “compromise” with the soda industry, quickly moving AB 1838 through the Legislature in exchange for the soda industry dropping its initiative. Following Brown’s signature on the bill, California cities and counties are prohibited from passing new taxes on soda until 2031.

The agreement in the form of AB 1838 has angered some liberals who argue the beverage industry managed to hold the state hostage. State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who voted against AB 1838, took to Twitter to blast the soda industry, while excusing his colleagues for voting for the bill.

“In a truly vile move, the soda industry aimed a nuclear weapon at CA by funding a ballot measure to make it nearly impossible for cities to raise revenue. The ransom to withdraw the measure? Requiring the Legislature to pass a 12-year ban on new local soda taxes to protect health,” Wiener wrote. “To be very clear: The soda corporations — Coca Cola, Pepsi, Snapple, Red Bull — are now a rogue industry. They’re willing to burn down the house to protect their bottom line and ability to sell dangerous products that give kids diabetes. #Karma”

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