Sugar Tax Falling Flat

Lloyd Madden BA, AC President

Councilman Jeff Ritterman, the chief sponsor of Measure N.

By Lloyd Madden BAPAC President Nobody on either side of the proposal to tax businesses that sell sugar-sweetened beverages in Richmond is arguing that obesity and weight gain isn’t a problem in our community. The differences are over whether a city tax such as Measure N that by design would result in higher grocery prices and could drive customers away from local markets and restaurants is the way to address the issue. Most recently, the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle joined the editorial board of the Contra Costa and West County Times in recommending that Richmond voters reject Measure N. “It’s neither fair nor wise to specifically target sodas for a special tax,” said the Chronicle’s editorial on Measure N published Oct. 19 “Measure N is also far too broad—‘sugar-sweetened beverages’ is a category that could encompass everything from sodas to infant formula,” the editorial said. Earlier, the Contra Costa and West County Times, in an editorial published Sept. 11, also recommended a “no” vote, saying: “Excess weight and obesity cannot be curtailed with a tax—and certainly not in just one city.  The government role should be education.” The flaws of Measure N are not news in Richmond, where thousands of residents and numerous businesses, community leaders and civic-minded organizations have taken positions against the tax. These individuals and groups understand that requiring local businesses to pay an annual fee of a penny per ounce on their inventories of beverages containing any amount of any type of added sugar isn’t going to improve the health of Richmond families. Rather, they see it getting passed along in higher prices that would hit the pocket books of Richmond families whether or not they drink soda.  They also see it causing some customers to shop and dine elsewhere to avoid Measure N price hikes. And they know that, despite the claims of supporters of the tax, all of the revenue from the measure would go into the city’s general fund without any requirement that it be used to fight obesity. Councilman Jeff Ritterman, the chief sponsor of Measure N, and other backers of the regressive tax have taken to accusing Richmond opponents of having had their minds made up for them by a well-funded campaign backed by the soft-drink companies. Those accusations have offended several of the individuals and organizations at which they have been aimed, the Black American Political Action Committee (BAPAC) and the Richmond Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Both groups are No on Measure N because of the regressive nature of the tax. Now, with impartial observers weighing in, mostly recently in the form of the S.F. Chronicle editorial, a consensus is forming: Measure N is “a sour deal” for Richmond.
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