California Lawmaker’s Soda Tax Bill Goes ‘Pop’

Published May 16, 2016

A California lawmaker withdrew a proposed bill to tax soda and other beverages containing sugar prior to the bill’s first hearing, which was scheduled before the California State Assembly’s Committee on Health.

If passed into law, Assembly Bill 2782, sponsored by state Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), would have added 2 cents per fluid ounce to the price of bottled juice and soda drinks sold in the state. 

According to media reports, Bloom withdrew the bill in April because too few Assembly lawmakers supported the proposal.

Taxes and Morality

Joe Carter, a senior editor with the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, says most Americans oppose using tax policy to influence people’s behavior.

“The public understands, at least intuitively, that the tax isn’t merely about health costs to the state but is intended to make a moral judgment about what people should or shouldn’t consume,” Carter said. “Sin taxes are a form of a sumptuary law, a law that attempts to regulate permitted consumption of particular goods and services.”

Carter says lawmakers have historically used this kind of tax to influence social behavior.

“Throughout history, sumptuary laws have been used to reinforce social hierarchies or class-based discrimination,” Carter said. “Normally this would be done by prohibiting certain social classes from being able to purchase a good, like the sixteenth century French law that banned anyone but princes from wearing velvet. Modern sin taxes try to express the same types of social disapproval, but in more subtle ways.”

Control Freaks

Carter says lawmakers should stop trying to restrict voluntary behaviors.

“What lawmakers should do is stop using taxes to control the consumption patterns of citizens,” Carter said. “We should not rely on the state to use its tax code to intervene in discouraging legal types of consumption.”

‘Created a Fiscal Problem’

Craig Eyermann, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, says California is addicted to health-related taxes, and the prognosis is not good.

“As the consumption of tobacco products in the state fell sharply, so did its tobacco tax collections, which created a fiscal problem for the state government because they had other priorities which they were counting on that money to support—most notably the pensions of state government employees,” Eyermann said.

Eyermann says the state is in a “sticky situation.”

“The real sticky situation that needs to be addressed here is the sticky fingers of the state government’s officials, too many of whom have priorities that are pretty unsustainable,” Eyermann said.

Andy Torbett ([email protected]) writes from Atkinson, Maine.