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Two California cities will vote on a sugar tax

Bottles of Mountain Dew are displayed in a cooler at Marina Supermarket in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Residents of San Francisco and Berkeley will vote this November on a proposed tax on sugary drinks that would pay for health and nutrition programs in both cities.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors this week voted 6 to 4 to put the measure on November’s ballot. If passed, sugary drinks would be taxed at a rate of 2 cents per ounce. The Berkeley city council voted earlier this month to put a 1 cent-per-ounce tax on the ballot.

Supporters say the tax is necessary to combat obesity and diabetes. “Bullets are not the only thing killing African American males,” San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen told the Associated Press. “We also have sugary beverages that are killing people.”

But opponents say soda taxes are regressive, and some said the tax would only force consumers to travel outside city limits to stock up on sugary drinks. The American Beverage Association has fought soda taxes around the country, and it has a campaign team in place in San Francisco already.

Health advocates and the ABA are expected to wage an expensive campaign for and against the measure. The ABA has already been organizing opposition among small business owners, particularly in Hispanic and Asian neighborhoods.

Sugar taxes don’t have a winning record when facing voters. Only two state legislature — Washington’s and Maine’s — has levied a tax on beverages. Voters repealed those taxes at the ballot box just months after each measure passed the legislature. Similar taxes failed in two California cities in 2012.

The tax would be levied on beverage distributors, meaning prices would appear higher on store shelves.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.



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