In a preview of the looming battle over Initiative 1107 here in Washington state, New York Gov. David Patterson has dropped his proposed penny-an-ounce tax on soda and other sweetened drinks in the face of a relentless, multi-million dollar ad campaign from, you guessed it, I-1107’s sponsor, the American Beverage Association. The NY tax would have raised about $1 billion over two years to offset cuts in health care.
“The beverage industry takes the position that you can’t allow this to happen anywhere at any time, based on the slippery-slope theory,” Michael A. Nutter, Philadelphia’s mayor, who has proposed a 2-cents-an-ounce tax, said this week. “They’re successful the old-fashioned way. They pay for it.”
Of course, the industry won’t be able to run quite the same sort of ads here in WA; at only two-cents per 12 ounce serving, our tax is a mere one-sixth that proposed in NY — and only applies to bottled water and carbonated beverages, not fruit juices and other sweetened beverages — so it really would amount to only pennies a day for all but the most profligate soda drinkers. Still, expect the attitude to be the same, and to loudly attack “wasteful spending” in Olympia.
But don’t be deceived. This is all about protecting beverage industry profits, not the health or welfare of Washington citizens. The American Beverage Association is fighting similar proposals in a dozen states, and Washington is just one more line in the sand, much in the same way that the plastic bag industry spent millions to defeat Seattle’s proposed bag ban in an effort to stop or slow similar bans elsewhere.
Soda giants like Coke and Pepsi have already pumped $2.5 million into their I-1107 campaign, but with more at stake than just the WA tax, we can expect several million dollars more between now an November. In the face of such an intense media campaign, it remains to be seen whether WA voters will be willing to stand up to such powerful out-of-state interests, when NY politicians clearly weren’t.