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Soda Tax a sweet deal for District residents
Government revenue has to come from somewhere—we all know what they say about death and taxes—so it is valuable when the government can levy taxes that have societal benefits, too. So as the American waistline grows, and state and local governments face an increasingly dire fiscal situation, the District of Columbia’s policymakers made a sound decision in turning to an unconventional tax on sugary drinks for spare change. Starting on Oct. 1, D.C. will charge a one-cent tax for each ounce of sweetened beverages in a given drink, a smart move for a city with health problems and serious budget shortfalls.
Councilwoman Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), should be commended for introducing and steering this bill through the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment in May. The tax represents a necessary and positive step forward for a city where 55 percent of residents are overweight or obese. Like the bag tax, which raised awareness about the unnecessary and environmentally destructive use of plastic bags, the soda tax is likely to cause residents to reconsider the volume of sugary beverages they buy. According to Thomas Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the tax, which would increase the price of a 12 oz can by about 10 percent, will likely be the single most effective measure in reversing the District’s obesity epidemic.
Some critics of the soda tax have argued that it will hurt low-income consumers, but the tax will actually lead to an increase in quality of life. Healthier beverages, such as water, milk, and juice will be more competitively priced, and the revenue generated from the tax will support the construction of grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods and healthier school lunches. The tax also places very little administrative burden on small businesses, since it applies to large distributors.
The soda lobby has spent tens of millions of dollars around the country fighting against soda taxes like the one that will be implemented in the District. Though it has its critics, this tax will raise up to $16 million for District residents, and will fund worthy programs like healthier school lunches and grocery store development. It’s a welcome sign that D.C. Councilmembers like Mary Cheh put the future health of their constituents at the top of their agendas, rather than folding to the demands of large beverage distributors.