Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sugary drink tax fizzles out

By Caitlin Rydinsky 

Another potential revenue source hit a wall at the Statehouse today as a House committee rejected a proposed tax on sugary drinks.

House Bill 0397 calls for a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages. Sponsor Rep. Gabel, an Evanston Democrat, said the bill could potentially raise more than $600 million to ease the state’s loss in revenue from expiration of the temporary income tax. Supporters hoped that increased tax could also help to reverse obesity and health- related issues  by prompting residents to drink fewer sugary beverages. The legislation called for the tax revenue to be used for physical and health education in schools and childcare centers, as well as walking paths and other community initiatives.

The bill failed by a wide margin in the committee, with only two of seven members voting in favor. Opponents argued that the tax would be hard on low- and mid-income families and would jeopardize jobs in the soft drink industry. Mark Denzler, chief executive officer of the Illinois Manufacturing Association, said, “You can’t raise the revenue without losing jobs.” The manufacturers and beverage industry raised concerns that a tax would impact stores and cause Illinoisans to go nearby states to avoid the cost. Denzler said, “If you raise the tax, and this is a tax increase by $2.88 on a case of soda, you will see consumers not necessarily changing their pattern of what they buy, but where they buy.”

Supporters said although the bill failed, they will continue efforts to pass such legislation. “Though we wish the outcome of the hearing had been different, we are glad this bill has started a public debate on the health impacts caused by sugary drinks. The fight will continue for a healthier Illinois,” said Elissa Bassler, executive director of the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, in a written statement. “The issues regarding obesity-related health impacts such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke are not going away, and we are committed to reversing the obesity epidemic in Illinois.”

Backers of the tax said that it would not limit consumers' ability to have a beverage they want, but it could encourage them to make healthier choices. They argued that while jobs might be lost in the soft drink industry, the legislation would promote growth in other sectors, such as health care and wellness. “I understand the concerns of the tax applied, but I also really want to emphasize the cost and the pain that obesity and diabetes have caused in so many working families,” said Gabel. “Particularly low-income families who don’t have proper medical care and insurance. They end up losing their legs, and so, I think we have to weigh in on these things as well as the creation of jobs in other industries.”

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