By Joe L. Fisher
Two months ago, Councilman Jeff Ritterman was happy to say his so-called “soda tax” would cover certain infant formulas—just as it would cover certain juices, flavored milks and a raft of other products he thinks Richmond residents should avoid.
“Only drinks which have added sugar will be taxed,” Ritterman said in a comment he posted on the Richmond Confidential Web site back in July. “Infant formula with added sugar has caused untold harm in infants.”
That may be true. But, as Measure N and its consequences for Richmond residents and businesses are coming under closer scrutiny, Ritterman is trying to change his tune, claiming that infant formula isn’t covered by his proposed tax and charging that the No on Measure N campaign is lying by saying otherwise.
Ritterman’s contradictory remarks on infant formula and Measure N—made during a KPFA radio debate Sept. 6 and in report aired Sept. 12 by KNTV NBC Bay Area during its 11 p.m. newscast—are prompting calls for him to clarify his statements and provide voters and local businesses with a complete list of products that would be covered by his proposed tax.
“You can’t have it both ways,” said Chuck Finnie, spokesman for the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, No on Measure N. “And you can’t get away with placing a tax on the ballot that you say is intended to do one thing when in point of fact it does something else.
According to Ritterman, Measure N is intended to reduce consumption of soda and to raise money for new recreation, nutrition-education and other programs to fight obesity and promote healthy lives. However, when you read Measure N, it specifically states that it is not a sales or excise tax on the purchase of soda.
Rather, according to the ordinance appearing as Measure N on the November ballot, it is actually a new tax on businesses for the right to operate in Richmond—with the amount of the tax equal to one cent per ounce sold of any nonalcoholic beverage containing any type of “caloric sweetener.”
What’s more, all of the money raised under Measure N would flow unrestricted into the city general fund, could be used for any lawful municipal purpose and in no way is earmarked to fight obesity.
Under the Measure N, a caloric sweetener is defined “any caloric substance suitable for human consumption that humans perceive as sweet and includes, without limitation, sucrose, fructose, glucose, other sugars, and fruit juice concentrates.”
Therefore, any beverage with any of these sweeteners added to it would be covered by the tax, which includes infant formula, notwithstanding Ritterman’s recent claims to the contrary.
By comparison, in the Los Angeles County city of El Monte, which followed Richmond in placing a sugar-sweetened beverage business license tax on its ballot, the City Council specifically amended the measure to exempt infant formula and other products it thought should be excluded.
“The fact of the matter is that this new tax would hurt our people and local businesses when it is passed along in higher prices,” said Lloyd Madden, President of the Black American Political Action Committee.
“It is unfair, misguided and misleading—and that is why most of our community leaders and organizations are working overtime to defeat it this November,” Madden said.
To read, listen to and view Councilman Ritterman’s contradictory statements on Measure N and infant formula, open the browser program on a computer and go to:
Richmond Confidential at: http://richmondconfidential.org/2012/07/06/op-ed-soda-tax-promises-bitter-outcome-for-residents-and-businesses/. Ritterman’s comment that N covers infant formula is one of several he made in connection with an Op-Ed article by Richmond Police Commissioner Felix Hunziker. The comment at issue was posted at 12:27 p.m. on July 14.
KNTV NBC Bay Area at: http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Richmond-Voters-to–169351826.html.
KPFA at: http://www.kpfa.org/archive/date/2012/09/06. In the archive for Sept. 6, listen to 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. public affairs program Up Front.