Oregon Sweetened-Beverage Tax Campaign Wastes Bloomberg’s Money

Published January 10, 2018

A Multnomah County, Oregon organization advocating a new tax on sugar-sweetened beverages wasted almost $1 million in funding from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to reporters.

In December 2017, Willamette Week journalists reported on an announcement from Coalition for Healthy Kids and Education, an organization campaigning for a new tax on sugar-sweetened beverage sales, noting its financial ties to Bloomberg.

The group originally submitted signatures to the county government’s Elections Division, seeking placement of the question on the May 2018 ballot.

On November 28, 2017, Coalition for Healthy Kids and Education decided to target the November 2018 ballot, voiding the petitions and squandering Bloomberg’s $915,000 contribution for the effort.

If the organization collects another 17,381 signatures by mid-July and voters approve the question in November, wholesalers will be required to remit excise taxes on sales of any drinks containing added sugar, including sodas, juices, sports drinks, and some teas and coffees.

Sweet Schadenfreude

Christopher Snowdon, director of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says he enjoys watching Bloomberg waste his money on campaigns for sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxes, commonly referred to as soda taxes.

“I get enormous satisfaction from watching Bloomberg throw away his money,” Snowdon said. “This comes on top of the $10 million he wasted on Cook County’s [Illinois] hated soda tax, which has now been repealed. The tragedy is that this money could help so many people if it was spent on medicine and healthcare.”

Snowdon says Bloomberg may claim he’s preventing health problems by funding SSB tax campaigns, but such taxes are just cash grabs.

“Bloomberg might say that he is spending money on preventive healthcare, but there is no credible evidence that soda taxes have any health benefits whatsoever,” Snowdon said. “For most politicians, they are a convenient way of raising revenue, but the public backlash in Cook County and Philadelphia has made governments think twice. These taxes are regressive, ineffective, and unfair.”

Calls Taxes Misguided

Patrick Gleason, director of state affairs at Americans for Tax Reform, says Bloomberg’s political advocacy efforts are ill-advised.

“I think Mayor Bloomberg believes his preferred policies will accomplish some good, and I see nothing wrong with him exercising his First Amendment right to advocate for them in many jurisdictions,” Gleason said. “The problem is his beliefs in this case are not supported by facts and the policies he’s pushing have negative unintended consequences.”

Reducing Wallets, Not Waistlines

Soda taxes shrink people’s pocketbooks instead of promoting their health, Gleason says.

“Soda taxes do not improve public health,” Gleason said. “They do put a crimp on middle- and lower-income households’ financial health. They also spark a backlash against the lawmakers who implement them, as we saw in Cook County and the ultimate decision to repeal the soda tax there.”