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Legislation Would Have Generated Revenue for Schools

"Soda Tax" Quickly Scuttled In Assembly Committee

By Jeff Hudson - April 28, 2011

A proposed “soda tax” bill – which would have levied a one penny tax per fluid ounce on soda, energy drinks  and other sugary beverages, raising an estimated $1.7 billion annually to support public schools — was quietly shelved by an Assembly committee on Monday.

The legislation, AB 669, had been introduced by Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Santa Cruz), with support from a number of health advocacy groups, as well as several newspaper editorials. However, the proposed bill faced stiff opposition in the Republican-dominated California Assembly, as well as from groups including the California-Nevada Soft Drinks Association and the Center for Consumer Freedom, which contended the bill unfairly singled out one product in the war on obesity.

On Monday, the Committee on Revenue and Taxation placed  AB 669 “on suspense,” effectively leaving the measure on hold unless a two-thirds majority can be mustered to move the bill out of committee. Monning acknowledged in several interviews that his bill isn’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future.

Dr. Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) says that 56 percent of California adults are overweight or obese and points out that 28 percent of children are obese as well. As a consequence, he says that California is seeing a dramatic rise in chronic diseases, such as diabetes, which cost the state an estimated $41 billion a year.

“If current obesity trends are not reversed, half of all African American and Latino children and one out of three Caucasian children born in the year 2000 will develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime,” he says. “If we’re serious about curbing childhood obesity, we have to start with the biggest culprit. Soda is clearly one of, if not, the leading contributors to this epidemic.”

Supporters of the legislation had touted the bill as a “lifeboat” of money for cash-strapped school districts and county agencies. Goldstein estimated that “A soda tax would return about $233 per student in the county to programs aimed at protecting the health and well-being of children. That’s a smart investment.”

Goldstein contended that local schools would have been the biggest winners of a soda tax, with about 60 percent of local funds going to the classroom and an additional 20 percent to help pay for improvements to physical education and provide school meals. He also estimated that AB 669 would have carved out another 20 percent of the local funds to pay for local children’s programs like youth sports and after-school programs.

Last Thursday, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) released a county-by-county analysis of how much of these new revenues would be returned to communities throughout the state. The CCPHA calculated how much of the revenue would go to the county’s schools based on its share of the Proposition 98 guarantee and how much would go to each county based upon funding allocations defined in the legislation and each county’s proportion of the state’s total population.

The study suggested that the soda tax would bring $1.4 billion – $233 per student – to local schools and communities.  $1.15 billion will go directly to schools, a combination of $850 million through the Proposition 98 guarantee and $300 million to fund improvements in physical education and school lunches.  Another $300 million will go to local communities for childhood obesity prevention efforts like youth sports and afterschool programs.  The remaining 15% of revenues will fund statewide obesity prevention efforts and medically based prevention and intervention programs.

To see the study by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, click here.

Editor's Note:  Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.